Your honour, sir, madam, justice, or judge?

Our latest guide

Our latest, easy to understand guide.

Today the Victoria Law Foundation launches a new guide on what to call judges and tribunal members in Victoria.

Have you ever wondered what to call the judge when you are in court? Even for the most seasoned lawyer it can be confusing. Imagine being a new law graduate sent down to court for the first time with a million things to think about and Law and Order episodes running through your head. 

Developed in consultation with both Victorian and Federal courts and tribunals, What do I call the judge? is the definitive Victorian guide on what to call judges and tribunal members in court, at functions, in writing and when they retire. Questions that come up every day for those working in the legal sector.

The guide has been developed to make it quick and easy to use, including a quick reference section and commentary with detail and examples on the conventions.

It’s an essential reference tool for anyone in the legal sector who has contact with the courts including new graduates, solicitors, expert witnesses and support staff. It’s information that up until now has been difficult to find in one place.

Ultimately however it is designed to make the public more confident when they come into contact with the courts. Providing clear guidelines that take away some of the stress of being involved in the court process.

The guide is available free, online and in hard-copy. You are welcome to link to the guide online, or to order copies for yourself, for your organisation or to distribute to your clients, visitors and the public. To order, call us on 9604 8100 or visit our website.


Five things you’ll gain from an internship with the Victoria Law Foundation

Getting experience in the legal sector can be the difference you need to really stand out in the workforce once you graduate. With a Victoria Law Foundation internship, not only will you feel good about working in an organisation that makes a difference, but you’ll expand your networks and get a behind-the-scenes look at a range of alternative legal careers too.

Lizzy Tunnecliff

Lizzy Tunnecliff tells all about her internship with us.

But don’t take just our word for it. We spoke with one of our past interns, Lizzy Tunnecliff, who told us what she got out of her Victoria Law Foundation internship last year.

Lizzy worked mostly in our grants area, looking at the best ways to evaluate the work our grants support, and making recommendations based on best-practice across the philanthropic sector.

So without further ado, here are Lizzy’s top five take-aways from our internship program.

 1.      Adapting skills for the workforce

The internship was fundamental in helping me make the transition from academic to professional writing. I gained a greater awareness of the importance of ensuring your writing meets your employer’s objectives, is reflective of resource limitations or public sector pressures, and incorporates your employer’s preferred style.

 2.      Getting to know who’s who in the legal sector

During my internship I spoke with a number of legal and philanthropic experts from a variety of organisations, including: Victoria Legal Aid, Public Interest Law Clearing House and Deakin University. I really valued their generosity in sharing their expertise and experience in project evaluation within the legal sector. Also, t

he foundation was great at connecting me with eminent members of the legal community. After completing my internship, I began volunteering at an environmental community legal centre which was another great development opportunity.

 3.      Bettering networking skills

My communication skills also developed during the internship. Whether it was attending meetings with potential grant recipients, assisting with the annual Legal Laneway Breakfast, or liaising with legal organisations, I now feel confident when engaging with stakeholders in my current role.

 4.      Dealing with organisational constraints

It was always challenging to hear so many excellent grant proposals from organisations, knowing that the foundation wouldn’t have financial capacity to fund all of the projects.

 5.      Insights into alternative legal careers

The internship program helped me see breadth of career opportunities available in the legal sector in government, not-for-profit and community organisations. After my internship, I was lucky enough to continue working at the foundation in a part time capacity. I had further exposure to the work of the foundation and its impact within metropolitan and rural Victoria. It helped me realise how much I enjoy making a tangible contribution to the community while making use of my legal skills.

 So where is Lizzy now?

After her internship, Lizzy stayed on at the foundation in casual employment; and since finishing her degree she is now gainfully employed in the Australian Public Service graduate program in Canberra. With her experience at the foundation behind her, she’s now working across legislative compliance and interpretation, health and social policy development, as well as having a stint in a Ministerial Office in Parliament House.

How to intern with us

We are now taking applications from current Victorian law students who’d like to join our internship program for 2014/15. To apply, just visit our website or contact us today. Applications close Monday 10 February 2014.

Lizzy’s tips for applying

Aside from academic marks and analytical skills, remember to communicate other qualities such as energy, enthusiasm and an ability to work productively in a collaborative environment, which can be just as important.

To find out more, visit:

Taking the law to more students than ever before

In just five months our new schools program, Classroom Law Talks, has successfully reached over 500 students! We launched the new program earlier this year in the regional town of Sale, during one of our Law Talks Intensive programs.

The response from students, teachers and presenters has been extremely positive, with feedback and demand far exceeding our expectations. One student recently told us: “The trip [to Wangaratta County Court] was invaluable for legal studies students as we were able to witness what we had learnt in action and it also increased and broadened our knowledge on the legal system.” – Year 12 Student, Benalla College

Peter Ryan MP and The Honourable P.D. Cummins launch Classroom Law Talks in Sale.

Deputy Premier The Honourable Peter Ryan MP and Foundation Char The Honourable P.D. Cummins launch Classroom Law Talks in Sale.

Classroom Law Talks builds on our existing work connecting students in rural and regional Victoria with the legal profession. It has already seen students from as far away as Mildura, Wodonga and Morwell discussing legal topics with barristers in their own classroom, or visiting their local court to hear from a judge and witness the law in action.

This new program is a valuable addition to our Schools Education Program, which aims to inspire and engage students in the law – something that will hopefully lead to a lifelong interest and understanding of legal issues. The program would not be possible without the generosity of the County Court judges and members of the Victorian Bar who contribute their time for the students.

This fantastic initiative builds on our successful Law Talks Intensive program – a free, two day event for VCE legal studies students that has been running since 2006. Held twice a year in different regional centres around Victoria it provides an interactive addition to the curriculum, otherwise unavailable outside the metropolitan area.

Students taking part in Law Talks, March 2013

Students taking part in Law Talks, March 2013

This week we’re in Warrnambool for the second Law Talks Intensive of the year. With over 300 student from nine surrounding schools attending, we’re well on track to improve Victorian students’ access to the law, right across the state.

For more information on Law Talks, visit our website or contact our Education Coordinator. If you have an idea for a legal project that will help to improve Victorians’ experience and understanding of the law but need funding to make it happen, why not talk to our Grants and Awards Manager to find out if you could be eligible for a grant from us.

County Koori Court – who’s your mob

With Law Week just around the corner, the County Court share a preview of what’s sure to be one of their Courts Open Day highlights. Judge Smallwood will share his insights about the County Koori Court at Courts Open Day on Saturday May 18 at 12pm in the County Court in Melbourne. It’s a rare opportunity to hear from the Judge in charge of the County Koori Court. There’s no need to book, just show up on the day. 

Judge Smallwood

Judge Smallwood

The County Koori Court started in the Latrobe Valley in 2009.

It deals with Koori offenders, who are over represented in our courts system, and tries to address the causes of offending and prevent reoffending.

This Court deals with people who are often drug dependant, alcohol dependent, unemployed and quite often mentally ill or severely disconnected.

It only deals with serious offending and frequently people with an extensive criminal history.

The court is now well established in Morwell, and it is planned to extend it to the County Court in Melbourne.

It is no ‘easy’ option for the accused. To be eligible to appear before this court, the offender must:

  • Plead guilty and consent to having the case heard in the Koori Court
  • Be charged with an offence that does not involve family violence, a sexual offence or breach of an intervention order
  • Be willing to come to court and talk about their story.

What happens in court?
There are three stages to each hearing. First stage is the formal proceeding, called arraignment. The Judge is robed and the accused enters a formal guilty plea.

The second stage is the sentencing conversation. The Judge comes down from the bench. The Judge, Elders and respected persons, the accused, lawyer for the accused, prosecutor, Koori Court officer, corrections officer and the family/support people sit around a table.

The accused talks about the offending and the Elders talk to the offender. Everyone has a chance to be heard.

The third stage is where the Judge delivers the sentence. The sentence is in line with any other sentence in the County Court, and is decided by the Judge alone.

The hearings are powerful and confronting for the accused. The evidence suggests that it is successful. The data shows that at the moment, the offenders in the Koori Court have not generally reoffended.

Law Talks is coming to Benalla!

This afternoon our new Education Manager Fiona Dea is heading up to Benalla to run our Law Talks program. This week’s program is notable for a couple of reasons – it’s the first time we’re taking the Law Talks program to Benalla AND it’s Fiona’s first Law Talks. Read on to find out what Fiona’s got planned for Benalla’s VCE legal studies students this week.

VCE legal studies students from the towns of Benalla, Kyabram, Yarrawonga, Mooroopna, Shepparton, Mansfield, Cobram, Rutherglen and Wangaratta are preparing to be inspired by an amazing line up of presenters working in the law from judges to police officers to lawyers and more.

Over the next two days a wide range of presenters working in the law will descend on the Benalla Town Hall to present to VCE legal studies students on legal topics that will help them with their studies, and hopefully inspire them to pursue a career in the law or a law related field. It’s a chance for these students to hear from leaders in various legal fields, who they would not otherwise have a chance to hear speak.

Victoria Law Foundation chose Benalla as the venue as it allowed us to reach a wide range of schools within the region from one central location.

Some of the legal topics up for discussion over the two days include: what makes an effective law, defamation and privacy laws, the criminal investigation process and behind Victoria’s jury system as well a session designed to assist them to study and prepare for their legal studies exams.

Presenters who kindly volunteer their time and expertise include Chair of Victoria Law Foundation the Honourable P.D. Cummins, Judge David Parsons on circuit at Shepparton County Court and representatives from Victoria Police, Benalla, Hume Riverina Community Legal Service, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Office of the Juries Commissioner, Victoria Law Reform Commission, Dispute Settlement Centre Victoria and Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner.

We know that young people who are truly engaged with the law are better equipped to understand their legal responsibilities as they enter in adulthood. Let’s just say that we hope Benalla Law Talks will leave a lasting impression.

And if the success of past Law Talk programs is anything to go by…. here’s what one student had to say about Mildura Law Talks in June.

‘I was filled with the passion to continue my education in the legal faculty.’

Good lawyers need training to be good communicators

Victoria Law Foundation Executive Director Joh Kirby on the importance of training law students to be good legal writers and communicators.

Go to Courtoons website This week the New Yorker on their blog published an article on Bryan Garner highlighting his work with US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Bryan Garner is a world renowned expert on legal writing, grammar and style and a collector of antiquarian law books. He has been published widely and is the editor of Black’s Law Dictionary and Garner’s Modern English Usage published by Oxford University Press, both leading American texts in the area. His publications and achievements are so extensive it is impossible to list them all here. Needless to say, he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to legal writing.

In the most recent edition of The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing Mr Garner published interviews with all the US Supreme Court Justices on their views on legal writing and advocacy. It is worth reading for the insight that it provides into the thinking of US Supreme Court justices and also to reflect on how their views might compare with those in Australia.

I recently heard Mr Garner speak in Washington DC as part of the plain language in law conference, Clarity2012. The part of his speech that resonated with me the most was how being a good legal writer takes time, just like being a professional sports star. It is a learnt skill and one that, unfortunately, in my view we aren’t teaching to our law students. This is a disservice to them as well as the profession.

While it is a given that being a good lawyer requires excellent legal skills, I would argue that a good lawyer must also be a good communicator. You need to have the ability to ensure that a client, whether a CEO of a large corporation or a newly arrived person to Australia with limited English, understands the advice being given and can act on it. The United States has courses in legal writing, including one of the most well-known, run by Garner’s colleague in the redrafting of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Joseph Kimble at Thomas Cooley Law School.

Isn’t it about time that we acknowledged the skill and training needed to be a good legal writer, and gave our law students the skills to excel in this area?

Mr Garner is in Melbourne this week talking at the Federal Court on legal writing and at University of Melbourne on collecting antiquarian law books.