Tipstaff & Associateship roles

Becoming a
Tipstaff or Associate

Being a tipstaff or associate offers you a unique insight into the court system. You will have the opportunity to watch and learn from judges and to witness lawyers in action from a different perspective. 

If you are in your penultimate year of law school or recently graduated and you have some legal research experience, you might be interested in applying to work with a judge in chambers once you have graduated. 

It is important to remember that judge’s often hire associates a year or more in advance. So, you should consider contacting chambers and applying in your 3rd or 4th year of law. 

A tipstaff is a law clerk to a judge. As part of their work, tipstaffs provide legal research, in-court duties, and other support for the judge.

Tipstaffs are generally employed for up to 12 months and the position is usually not advertised.

An Associate acts as a personal and professional assistant to a judge. They provide extensive legal research for the judge and assist them with court related duties similarly to a tipstaff.

Associates will also maintain records, administer oaths, take verdicts from juries and record, and take custody of exhibits among other court duties.

The benefits of working as a tipstaff or associate 

Tipstaff and associate positions are highly competitive and well sought after because they provide graduates and new lawyers:

  • an invaluable insight into the operation of a judge’s chambers
  • an understanding of the administration of the justice system and the courtroom procedure
  • insight into the work of a barrister and solicitors in litigation practice 
  • the opportunity to build and grow your professional network
  • a very impressive type of work experience for your CV 

Tipstaffs and associateships are open to law graduates and lawyers. 

Although you cannot start working as a tipstaff or associate until after graduation, you should start thinking about tipstaff and associateships in your 3rd or 4th year of law school because:

  • some judges hire associates one or more years in advance. If you are applying for a highly competitive role, you should consider contacting chambers in your 3rd or 4th year of law school to secure a position once you have graduated; and
  • graduates are often expected to have prior legal research experience. If you intend to apply for a tipstaff or associateship upon graduation, you should ensure that you have an impressive CV and academic record. 

Some judges may prefer someone who has completed the College of Law (or PLT) and/or equivalent post-university graduation. Although, this is not always the case, as each judge can decide what they are looking for!

High Court of Australia

Associates in the High Court are usually expected to have exceptional grades. The High Court often will appoint associate’s 2-3 years in advance. When applying in the High Court it is best practice to write directly to the Judge that you would like to work for. You should include a CV and your academic transcript.

If you would like more information on applying for an associateship with the High Court of Australia you should see the website.

Federal Court

The Federal Court of Australia associate positions are usually not advertised. You should contact the chambers of a judge if you are interested in working for them and include a cover letter, CV and your academic transcript. It is also helpful to include the year you can work for them. The Federal Court may hire associates all year round, so get prepared to send your application ASAP.

Supreme Court of New South Wales

The Supreme Court of NSW associate and tipstaff positions usually close around 30 March of every year. If you would like to be considered for the year following, you should submit a cover letter, CV and a strong academic transcript prior to this date. These positions usually begin in January the following year and are highly competitive.

You may wish to contact the chambers of a judge you would like to work for to ask them for specific information on the applicant they are after. For more information visit the Supreme Court of NSW website.

District Court

The District Court application process is very similar to that of other courts. Applicants should contact the personal chambers of judges and send through an application of a cover letter, CV and a strong academic record.

Very few judges advertise job vacancies. 

The best ways to go about applying for a judge’s tipstaff or associate are to:

  • get in touch with the current tipstaff or associate and introduce yourself. Find out whether the judge is hiring for the following year;
  • contact the judge’s chambers directly. This may seem very direct, but it is often expected. If you do contact the judge directly, ensure that you are polite and formal in your greetings; or
  • get in touch with your university contacts, particularly the Indigenous unit at the university, to see if they know of any vacancies.

Once you have found one or more potential judges, you should prepare your CV and a motivation letter.

Given these roles are highly competitive, graduates are expected to have a strong academic record and well-established legal research skills. Prior legal experience is also desirable when applying.

You can find tips on writing and refining your CV and preparing for a job interview in Ngalaya’s Applying for a Job Guide. 

You might also consider getting in touch with your university contacts for tips on getting a tipstaff or associate position.

Questions?

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