A Day in the Life of / Life / Life after law school

A Day in the Life of a… Junior Criminal Lawyer for PDS

Name: Joseph Xulue
Job title: Junior Criminal Lawyer
Employer, city/country: Public Defence Service
Length of time in current role: 4 months
Where and when you studied law: University of Auckland (2011–2016)

Describe a typical day in your job

Much of the role at the Public Defence Service (PDS), as the name suggests, is based on criminal law defence advocacy. For the most part, this means I am appearing in the Auckland District Court at least 4 days a week for at least half my day, in some instances I will be appearing in Court all day on many different matters.

Much of my day also involves liaising with Police and Crown prosecution, probations, registrars, prison staff, and other groups and stakeholders such as rehabilitation groups aimed at helping our clients deal with their varied and wide-ranging issues.

As a junior, not only do I manage my own client files from first appearance to sentencing, but you also assist more senior lawyers with written submissions, filing court documentation, jury trials and undertaking client interviews.

In terms of work content, as a junior I deal with a broad spectrum of criminal offending – albeit at the lower end of criminality. This can include driving violations, drug offending, assaults and burglary/theft. Even at the junior level, I can take cases to judge-alone trial and lead them (with supervision of course).


How did you get into this job?

Like many people who apply for PDS, I applied multiple times before being interviewed. In fact, after having applied numerous times at the start of the year for PDS I had almost turned my back on applying at all. Had it not been for a browse on seek.co.nz, I would have never discovered the advertisement for the position I’m in now – and I applied on the last day, within the last hour of the application window closing. Moral of the story, don’t give up (lol).


Are there any particular study subjects or working experience you would recommend to prepare for a similar role to yours?

Other than maybe an advanced criminal law paper at university or even Youth Justice, I’d highly recommend taking evidence law and, if available, a paper based on the Criminal Procedure Act 2011. Familiarity of both the CPA 2011 and Evidence Act 2006 are crucial to the practice of criminal advocacy. If I could stress that more through words on a page, I would. Similarly, an advocacy-based paper would also be highly recommended.

In terms of work experience, I’d recommend applying for internship roles, like that offered by PDS over the Summer and even Meredith Connell’s internship throughout the year. In addition, whilst quite rare, Barrister Chambers do allow for work experience and/or internships. But as mentioned, they can be few and far between. On the plus side, if you can do work experience with a barrister or any other criminal law-based practice, you will get to shadow some great courtroom advocates and it may just solidify – or lessen – any previous interest in the criminal practice.


What are the highlights of the job?

In my very limited time at PDS I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences. Much of it comes down to being able to appear in Court on a regular basis, form relationships with people in criminal law and manage my own client files. Being able to interact with clients and represent their interests in Court is both a privilege and (for lack of a better word) an exciting experience.

Moreover, I am very fortunate to be working in a great collegial office in Auckland, where I can constantly seek clarification and help from anyone I work with. Although for the most part you are thrown in the deep end, the lessons you learn during that process are invaluable.


What are the challenges of the job?

Certainly when working in criminal law it can be difficult to be confronted with descriptions of alleged offending that you may never have experienced personally. Whether the alleged offending is egregious, shocking or relatively minor, it can all take a toll on you as a person. But it’s ok to acknowledge that, and in fact, I think it’s crucial to your well-being. Some days are easier than others and some cases are certainly less easy to deal with, but it’s part and parcel of the world of criminal law. Despite what I’ve just written, I am still very much certain that this is what I want to do. The biggest challenge of the job is not so much the actual work as it is the ability to be honest about what it is that you do and why you do it.


What kind of personal qualities are suited to this job?

Keeping in line with my previous answer, I’d say that resilience is crucial to the role of a PDS lawyer. Most of your time as a PDS lawyer will involve handling a very busy and complicated case load and even more complex clients. The rate at which you make mistakes is inevitably high and the pressure associated with the role is equally high. That being said, the support and training you receive at PDS alleviates these going concerns.

Although not unique to PDS but certainly also an essential trait to have, is time management. Dealing with an array of stakeholders ranging from clients to prosecutors and even corrections staff needs effective management. In my own experience, I did find it difficult to deal with initially but found that through assistance from other PDS lawyers I was able to really timetable my matters in an efficient and far more manageable way.

Finally, given the great responsibility that is associated with being a PDS lawyer, I believe it’s important to have a strong sense of community. As PDS lawyers we have the responsibility of providing the best legal advice possible to those who are disenfranchised – a lot of the time and many who suffer from addictions, poverty and cycles of violence. It follows then that people wanting to work for PDS have a strong sense of civic responsibility and a want to help those in need.


What one thing do you wish someone had told you at law school?

“It all works out in the end, IF you work hard enough for it.”


Any advice for students wanting to get into a similar role?

If you are considering PDS (and this may run true for other parts of criminal law practice), then I suggest you really take the time to consider the commitment involved. Working in criminal law is as much a time commitment as it is an emotional investment. The work is not easy, but it is very rewarding.