“Law is about people.”
Susan Campbell came to this realisation in November 2021, when she began working as a paralegal at Hugo Law Group in Canberra.
“When I started looking at the cases and meeting the clients and talking to them, I could understand that there is another side to the story,” she says.
Susan’s story begins in Queensland, where she worked as a police officer in Brisbane, after obtaining a degree in Psychology.
“I did some work as a police prosecutor and that's when I really started to develop an interest in the law beyond policing, because I found it quite interesting, and I really enjoyed going to court.”
When she thought about changing careers and going back to university, she quickly threw away the notion, with a raft of excuses.
“’I'm too old.’ ‘It's going to take too long.’ ‘No one will give me a job’ — all the things you tell yourself that aren't really obstacles.”
Instead, Susan worked on being promoted to detective in the police force, after moving to the remote outback town of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.
It was there Susan met a solicitor, who convinced her to pursue further study.
“He was a very helpful, knowledgeable person, and he always took a bit of time out for me while I was having my little mid-life crisis, questioning what I was going to do with the rest of my life,” Susan says.
“His advice to me was to enjoy it, treat it like a hobby. Don’t worry about your age, he said, you've got so much experience, you'll be fine.”
A role in the Department of Defence brought Susan to Canberra.
“I looked at applying for the Juris Doctor at the University of Canberra, and Defence was very supportive,” she says.
The decision to start a graduate degree later in life was bittersweet.
“Mr Jobson, the solicitor who encouraged me, died a few months after our conversation and I was so upset, because I didn't know he had terminal cancer,” Susan says.
“He had also said to me — you reach a crossroads in your life where you make a decision, and it takes you in one direction or another, or you can have an experience in your life where something happens, and it changes everything.”
Susan is now embarking on a legal career, with a Juris Doctor and a self-understanding as to why she decided to go from putting criminals behind bars as a police officer to trying to keep them out of prison.
“People that I absolutely would have arrested as a police officer and absolutely would have prosecuted as a police prosecutor are people I now view and treat with so much more empathy because I hear their life story leading up to what they have allegedly done,” she says.
“There’s court and there's procedures and there's all these complicated rules, but at the end of the day, it's about human beings who find themselves sometimes in horrendous situations, be they victims or the defendants, it’s just a big human tragedy playing out.”
The law firm Susan works for was also intrigued by her decision to “switch sides”.
“When I had my interview, they said ‘people come in here and some of them have been charged with some pretty horrendous things. How are you going to go with that?’”
“I just said to them, ‘look, if I can't deal with it and if I can't give 100% to the client, then I'll leave and I'll know it's not for me.’”
Susan hasn’t looked back — she is hoping to be admitted as a lawyer in early 2023, with aspirations to one day sit the bar exam and eventually become a barrister.
She echoes the advice of her late friend Mr Jobson for those who might think they’re too old to change careers.
“Don't even worry about your age —if you apply for a job and don’t get it, there'll be someone else out there who will see the value in taking you on.”
Words by Emma Larouche, photo by Tyler Cherry.
This September, the University of Canberra would like to congratulate the graduating class of 2022.
We are so glad we can celebrate your journey – you have grown in so many ways, and risen to meet challenges with grace and creativity.
Many of you are already impacting your chosen fields, while others embark on the postgraduate study path.