In Conversation with the Legal Profession: Public Service

Tash Behrendorff Copian

Law is a discipline that extends to every aspect of our modern society. As such, it is important to have an open mind towards possible careers. Public service is one such possibility that is both rewarding and diverse. Two legal officers in the public service have kindly given up their time to divulge a little of what their work entails.


Steven Strelan

Senior Legal Officer

Ombudsman SA

1.    In a nutshell, what is your role in your organisation?

My position is Senior Legal Officer, Investigations.  I supervise a team of investigating officers and also have conduct of my own investigation files. The Ombudsman’s jurisdiction includes investigating administrative acts of government agencies and local government councils under the Ombudsman Act 1972. The Ombudsman also has jurisdiction to investigate misconduct and maladministration under the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Act 2012, upon referral by the Commissioner.


2.    What inspired you to go into public service?

The public sector values are important to me. Serving the community (in particular those who are vulnerable) with respect, honesty and integrity is important to me. I also value the high level of professionalism and skill of the various public sector agencies in which I have worked.


3.    What is the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding parts of my work include providing a service to vulnerable people, considering human rights issues where they arise and observing meaningful administrative improvement within agencies. It is also rewarding to receive feedback from parties (both complainants and those that are investigated) that they feel they have been treated fairly by the Ombudsman’s office throughout an investigation.  Further, the work is diverse and often involves complex legal issues. Finally,  I am fortunate to be part of such a positive, hardworking and supportive team.


Paul O’Conner


Legal Services Commission

1.    In a nutshell, what is your role in your organisation?

I have been employed by the Legal Services Commission for just shy of 10 years. In a nutshell, my current role is to provide in-house legal representation to individuals granted legal aid in relation to criminal matters.  

I work within the Solicitor Advocate team of the Criminal Law Practice Division of the Legal Services Commission. This position allows me to do a lot of in court advocacy work. Along with taking instructions and appearing in court for those clients assigned to me, a portion of my role is also to accept briefs from my colleagues to represent clients of theirs who have matters listed for trial.


2.    What inspired you to go into public service?

I think it was more of a case of being inspired to work for the Legal Services Commission in particular. Admittedly, I did not originally choose to study law to pursue a career in criminal law. I began to lean this way as time went by, however, and then I was incredibly fortunate to be able to do my placement within the Criminal Law Practice Division of the Legal Services Commission. During my placement I was witness to the passion and commitment that the staff felt for their work; from the duty solicitors who assist people in court shortly after they have been arrested with little time to prepare, to the retired Judge who regularly comes into the office to volunteer his time and assist other practitioners.  

Not long after I finished my placement the Commission advertised duty solicitor positions and I was able to get my foot in the door and they have not asked me to leave yet.


3.    What is the most rewarding part of your work? 

I think it has to be the court work and I say this as someone who would feel a shiver of dread go down their spine when the phrase ‘oral presentations’ was said at uni. Whereas many of my friends from university will rarely be required to appear in court, my role allows me to do it often multiple times a day. These friends may simply have more patience than me but I enjoy that almost instant feedback that you get in oral advocacy as to whether or not your work has been effective.

It is clear that working in public service is a fulfilling and exciting option worth considering at the end of your degree. If you would like to look into public service further, it is also possible to undertake some work experience or your placement in a government department. Thank you to our interviewees for sharing their experiences with us.