What's your name and job title? What did you study?
My name is Joseph McDonald. I’m a legal officer at the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities in Canberra. I graduated from the University of Sydney in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Government and International Relations, and a Bachelor of Laws.
Where did you grow up? Tell us about your education and/or career highlights.
I grew up on the South Coast of NSW. I was lucky enough to study my last semester of law at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Previously I enjoyed stints as a legal volunteer at the Environmental Defenders Office NSW and at the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT).
How did you get to your current job position?
Having successfully applied for the Department’s Graduate Development Program, I completed rotations in both legal and policy areas in 2017. I’ve been a legal officer in the Department since December 2017, and am preparing to be admitted as a lawyer this year.
How did you choose your specialisation?
Over a number of years, I have developed a keen interest in public law, and environment and planning law, as well as key policy issues.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
I participated in an assessment centre that included a written analytical exercise, a group problem-solving activity and a panel interview. The interview focused on behavioural and situational questions.
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?
For work in legal services, a law degree is essential. For policy opportunities in the Department, all disciplines are valued. I know other graduates who have brought previous skills in engineering, science, planning, human resources, political studies, economics, and arts and social sciences to the workplace.
I would encourage prospective graduates to invest the time in developing further skills in group leadership and coordination, public speaking, and gaining further experience in working in teams and managing conflict. It is fundamental to be able to build good relationships at work, and communicate with a range of people.
My previous experiences as a legal volunteer enabled me to observe and develop skills in a legal practice while making a contribution to important public interest legal work. This type of experience also fosters valuable critical reflection about justice and the role of law and lawyers in society.
What does your employer do?
The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities is responsible for the design and implementation of the Australian Government's infrastructure, transport and regional development policies and programs.
What are your areas of responsibility?
I work on a range of administrative law, government law and commercial law matters.
Can you describe a typical work day?
My typical day includes undertaking legal analysis, legal research and drafting legal advice, engaging with different areas of the Department, and collaborating with other team members to solve pressing legal issues.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
A person who is motivated and has skills in legal analysis, writing, communication, time management and teamwork.
What are the career prospects with your job?
A legal role in the Department is a great platform for further legal specialisation or policy work, both inside the Department and across the Australian Public Service.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Yes. The Department is an employer that promotes diversity in the workplace. A strength of my graduate cohort is that it included people from all over Australia and with many different academic, professional and personal backgrounds.
What do you love the most about your job?
Given the breadth of the Department’s work, every day is a chance to do something new and interesting. Working in a supportive team environment, I’m able to grow as a legal professional.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?