Matters of judgement
Judge Wendy Wilmoth (BA 1972, LLB 1973, LLM 1979) is one of Victoria’s most experienced and esteemed judges, having served on the County Court since 2003. Pinar Tat (BA 2015) is a third-year law student at the University of Melbourne. She met Judge Wilmoth through the University mentorship program. They speak to Kate Stanton (MJourn 2016).
When I was a young solicitor, there were no women magistrates. But in 1986 the first women were appointed. I knew a couple of the women who were appointed and I thought, ‘well, now it’s a possibility.’ I worked as a solicitor for five years, moved on to lecturing and, eventually, worked on the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. From there I was appointed to the Magistrates’ Court and in 2003, I was appointed to the County Court.
I really enjoy my job. Even though I could have retired last year, I don’t intend to for some time. I like the exercise of applying the law in different ways. The challenge of applying it to different human circumstances can be testing, but it’s also professionally rewarding.
I’ve done ad hoc mentoring over the years and I still do that for young people, or students, who could spend a few days shadowing me. I also started working with the University’s mentorship program about seven years ago and I’ve since had one student a year. When I heard that Pinar was my mentee last year I asked her to come and meet me at my chambers. She came into court with me on the first day and, eventually, she sat through a whole trial – I think it was about 10 days – so she was able to see the whole process from start to finish.
That’s a huge advantage. When you’re a law student you may not get any real sense of what a whole trial might be like. You might sit in court for a day and see a bit of cross-examination, for example. But you might not see where that fits into a whole trial. Students always tell me that watching a trial is a great experience because they can understand how it all fits together, how it works.
Pinar was very receptive to it. She realised straight away how beneficial it was to be able to do that and she committed to it. I think perhaps she was inspired by the whole process.
Sometimes I didn’t have time to talk to Pinar during court proceedings, but we could sit down later and talk about what happened. I gave her all the court documents to read so she knew what was going on.
She’d ask what things meant and why they happened. In that sense, mentorship is not just the experience; it’s instructive as well.
It would be most rewarding if Pinar were to become a judge one day. I think it’s excellent that she can get exposure to the work of a judge through programs like these, which weren’t available in the past.
I do like the opportunity that it presents to discuss different ways of being a lawyer and different ways of using a law degree.
I always knew I wanted to study law. I wanted to do something where I was engaging with people directly and helping them. I think the law can be used to empower people – that’s the driving force for my career.
As soon as I finished my undergraduate degree, I started law school. I’m now in the final year of my JD, which is my sixth year of university. It’s been a really enriching experience so far but I’m looking forward to finishing. It’s been a long six years of study and I’m eager to start my career in the law.
I completed a mentorship program in my first year and decided to do it again. By my second year, I had a much better idea of the direction I wanted my career to take.
I was very nervous and excited the first time I met Judge Wilmoth. I think that stems from the fact that law students can be quite fascinated by judges because we spend so much of our time studying their legal opinions. Judge Wilmoth was absolutely wonderful and made me feel very welcome. I felt like I could ask all of the questions that I wanted to ask about the law and what life as a judge is like.
“Her presence is definitely felt in a courtroom.”
It was a really interesting experience to talk to a judge directly about how they practise law. And I was lucky enough to be able to sit through the entirety of one of her trials, which is something I had never done before. The study of law can be quite theoretical, so seeing the law in practice was invaluable.
I think I would like to become a judge one day. Being able to see what they do – and their role in court – was absolutely fascinating. Judge Wilmoth was calm and approachable but also firm and assertive. Her presence is definitely felt in a courtroom. Her knowledge of the law is absolutely incredible. It was difficult not to be in awe of her.
When I expressed my interest in criminal law, Judge Wilmoth put me in touch with one of the partners of a criminal defence firm. I was lucky enough to be able to spend three weeks there through her recommendation and this further solidified my interest in criminal law. Although our formal mentor-mentee relationship has concluded, Judge Wilmoth is someone I have a lot of respect for and hope to continue to keep in touch with. I’m looking forward to consulting her in the future when it comes to making career decisions.
Are you interested in mentoring a student?
For further information or to register your interest visit Mentoring @ Melbourne.