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Attorney-General's Department (AGD)

  • 500 - 1,000 employees

Matt Traeger

The diverse subject matter on which we advise also means I’m constantly learning about new topics and areas of law.

Where did you grow up?

I studied at the University of Adelaide from 2012 to 2017. During this time, my most significant commitment outside of study was my volunteer work with United Nations (UN) Youth Australia, a youth-led Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that runs educational programs for high school students on topics related to international affairs. This included organising a month-long educational tour of Europe for 16 students, and taking a year off university to serve full-time as the organisation’s National President. These were rewarding experiences which also taught me so many valuable skills – in relation to management, operations and logistics, public communications, and navigating the policy and NGO sectors – that set me up well for full-time employment. 

At the end of my degree, I worked as a Law Clerk at the South Australia Crown Solicitor’s Office. I then spent 12 months as a Researcher at the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin, while I undertook my Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice

How did you get to your current job position?

I joined the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) Graduate Program in January 2019. The 12-month program included rotations through AGS’s major practice areas. At the end of the program, I settled in my current role as a lawyer within the Office of General Counsel.

How did you choose your specialisation (compared to others)?

I have always been interested in public and constitutional law, and the inner workings of government. I also wanted to work somewhere that I could contribute to some public good, rather than a private interest. Working as a Commonwealth Government lawyer has been a great way to fulfil those interests.

What was your interview process like?

The application process for the AGS graduate program is typical of most Australian Public Service (APS) graduate programs, it involved a written application and follow-up interviews. The interview involved questions about my background, my previous experience, and skills and qualities that I would bring to the role.

What does your employer do?

AGS is the Commonwealth Government’s central legal services provider. In many ways, it operates like a typical law firm, except that all of its clients are government entities. 

I work within the Office of General Counsel, which provides advice to a wide range of government departments and agencies on constitutional and public law, statutory interpretation, and the development and implementation of legislation.

Can you describe a typical workday? 

I am usually juggling a number of matters. Some of these matters span longer periods of time and involve providing detailed written advice to assist clients with complex or novel legal issues. This often requires extended research into the relevant area of law, teleconferences or meetings with the client to flesh out and clarify relevant issues, working with my colleagues to plan our advice, drafting the advice itself, and working with my supervisor to finalise it. 

However, some of my work involves providing brief advice, perhaps via email or phone, in response to urgent requests with a tight turnaround. For example, my team has worked on a high volume of urgent requests for legal advice on new policy proposals that government departments are submitting to Cabinet for consideration as part of the next Federal Budget.

What are the career prospects with your job?

AGS seems to be a workplace where you can build a fulfilling and diverse career over many years. However, the exposure you gain to the world of government would also prepare you well to work in-house in another government entity, move into a policy role, work in the private sector, or go to the Bar.

What do you love the most about your job?

Much of my team’s work is directed at helping the Commonwealth to develop a new policy or legislation or implement or amend existing programs. This means our work often has a direct relationship with policy outcomes and is responsive to current events. That’s an aspect of the job I find very rewarding. The diverse subject matter on which we advise also means I’m constantly learning about new topics and areas of law.

Importantly, there are great lifestyle benefits to working within the public service. AGS has very reasonable working conditions –: out of hours work can be necessary during busy periods of the year or in relation to urgent or significant matters, but is not the standard. The hours are very reasonable (which is not something that my friends at large private firms can often say).

What’s the biggest limitation of your job?

My team is exclusively based in Canberra. I enjoy living and working here, but others might view this as a limitation.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student? 

  1. I didn’t gain any legal work experience until the final year of my law degree, but this wasn’t a barrier to future employment – I’ve found that employers really value diverse non-work and non-university experiences, even if they aren’t directly related to law.
  2. Try to find a workplace that will allow you to do a wide variety of work on a range of topics. This will help you get the best sense of what you enjoy, and what you’re good at. My colleagues have always emphasised to me the importance of not specialising too early – pursue your interests, but keep your options open.
  3. I’ve always found the 80,000 Hours website to be full of a great career and life advice – so my piece of advice is to check it out!