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On the job in criminal law

Jaymes Carr

Careers Commentator
Liam Cavell studied a Bachelor of Media / Bachelor of Laws at Macquarie University and is now a Senior Federal Prosecutor at the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

Can you tell us about your current job and your background?

My name is Liam Cavell and I am currently a Senior Federal Prosecutor at the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) in Sydney. However, I actually began my career in commercial law.

After graduating from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Media and Bachelor of Laws (Hons) in 2010, I commenced work at Herbert Smith Freehills. It was during my time there that I had the opportunity to work on pro bono criminal matters through the firm’s partnership with the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre. Drawn to criminal law advocacy and the desire to contribute towards maintaining a fair and just society, I decided to join the CDPP in 2016.

What does your job involve?

The CDPP is responsible for prosecuting violations of federal law. Some examples of the offences we prosecute include fraud against government agencies, commercial crimes, drug importation, people smuggling and slavery, child exploitation, and acts of terrorism.

Working in the fraud practice group, my job involves reviewing briefs of evidence provided by investigative agencies, assessing whether there is sufficient evidence to commence a prosecution, and if there is, defining or amending the charges laid by the agency. I maintain carriage of the matter as it moves through the court, and if it requires defence, I will generally appear in any summary hearing.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Yes – the CDPP employs lawyers from a variety of backgrounds. Our prosecutors have worked as judge’s ssociates and tipstaves, in criminal defence, at commercial firms, and in investigative agencies. Rather than a particular background, the CDPP values particular skills and characteristics in its prosecutors. These include the ability to think critically and laterally, the possession of excellent communication skills, and the willingness to work as part of a team.

What is the coolest thing about your job?

The aspect of my job that I enjoy the most is appearing in court. There is a heavy emphasis on in-house advocacy at the CDPP, and regular opportunities for those interested in court work to appear in a variety of matters. This includes conducting contested summary hearings, and in some cases, even jury trials.

What are the limitations of your job?

Prosecutors are sometimes exposed to very confronting case material, such as child exploitation content. Whilst the CDPP has support measures in place to assist its lawyers deal with such material, it nonetheless has the potential to cause distress.

What are three pieces of advice for your younger self at university?

  • Work or study overseas. Being able to bring outside experience to problem solving is an extremely useful and highly valued skill across a range of professions. It’s also a lot of fun.
  • Reach out to potential mentors. It can be helpful to speak to a person who is working in a particular organisation or area of law that interests you. They can give you practical tips and help guide you through the early stages of your career.
  • Find balance. As a young lawyer, it is easy to adopt the bad habits of those around you, such as working long hours. Having outside interests as a student is a good way of adopting a healthy balance that you can maintain when you begin your working life.