‘There is never a dull moment in criminal law. The stakes are very high and the responsibility is enormous.’
Over an almost-20 year law career, Deakin graduate Sally Flynn QC says the biggest change she’s observed in the profession is the number of women becoming barristers.
‘While there has always been a significant number of a female solicitors, the Victorian Bar has lagged behind in the number of female barristers,’ she says.
Sally has been a member of the Victorian Bar for 13 years and in November 2017, she had the honour of being appointed as Senior Counsel by the Chief Justice of Victoria.
‘I am very proud to say that when I was made a silk, there were four other women appointed with me (as well as 18 men). It can only be hoped that the number of female silks will continue to grow each year as more women become barristers. Women now comprise 29% of the Victorian Bar, up from 5.5% in 1980, and 40% of barristers under 15 years call are women,’ she says.
After graduating from Deakin in 1998, Sally completed her articles of clerkship at the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP).
Following her admission as a solicitor, she stayed on at the OPP and over the next four years gained extensive experience in criminal law which included preparing and instructing in a range of serious sexual offences as well as complex drug and homicide matters.
In September 2004 Sally was accepted into the Victorian Bar Reader’s Course and two months later she began her career as a criminal law barrister.
‘Whilst I appear for both the prosecution and defence, in recent times I have mainly been briefed on behalf of the prosecution,’ she says.
Regularly prosecuting murder trials in the Supreme Court as well as criminal trials in the County Court, Sally has been involved in a number of high-profile cases including many of the so-called “Melbourne gangland” murder trials.
She says the aspect of her career that she enjoys the most is being in the courtroom.
‘I absolutely love being on my feet in court. I am not the sort of barrister who would have career satisfaction by being in chambers all day drafting pleadings or providing written advice without stepping into a court. The whole reason I became a lawyer was to be able to go to court and argue my case to a judge or a jury. There is never a dull moment in criminal law. The stakes are very high and the responsibility is enormous.’
Not surprisingly, Sally describes her work as ‘sometimes very difficult’ as she has to deal with serious sexual offenders and crimes where people have died either in homicide matters or through driving offences.
‘I have a job to do which does not allow me to succumb to emotion or sympathy but, as a human, it is impossible not to be moved by some of the work,’ she says.
During the course of a trial, a major part of Sally’s work is dealing with the families of a deceased person as well as complainants in sexual crime cases.
‘Often the day, or days, that I am involved with them are amongst the worst days of their lives when they have to give evidence about deeply personal, emotional and often embarrassing issues. It is challenging to try and stay professional and detached in some of those situations but it is essential that I remain objective so I can effectively do my job,’ she explains.
Sally also works in appellate advocacy where she is briefed to prepare written submissions for appeals against conviction and sentence.
‘This includes regular appearances in the Court of Appeal and I also appear in quasi-criminal matters including regularly advising and appearing on behalf of the Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation.’
With advances in technology bringing significant changes to the legal profession, Sally says she can still remember the first day a barrister brought an iPad into the court.
‘It was such a novelty and we all gathered around it and gasped in disbelief as he searched Google Maps and an image of the house, that was at the centre of the case, popped up onto the screen so we could see the front door that the witness had been describing.’
Today, this technology is her everyday work essential.
‘I would not be without an iPad in court as it contains a wealth of useful resources around legislation and authorities. Electronic briefs are also becoming the norm whereas in the past we would lug an enormous suitcase full of folders to and from court,’ she says.
As well as being a barrister, Sally is the mother of three primary school aged children and, like many parents, she faces the daily juggle between home and career responsibilities.
‘Trying to maintain a work/life balance, and be a parent, when you are in the middle of a big trial can be very challenging but I am lucky to have great family support around me to help when those times occur.’
Sally’s advice to those considering a law career is to explore its many options.
‘It is a truly wonderful profession and the opportunities are amazing. And for those who may be interested in advocacy, I would absolutely recommend considering becoming a barrister.’
Importantly, she recommends that law students embrace their university years.
‘Once you have graduated and begin your career, life can get pretty serious. Make sure you enjoy your years at university. Spend time with friends, have lots of laughs, enjoy asking questions and challenging those around you. In the future you will look back and realise they were amongst the best days of your life.’