When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
At school; I decided in about Year 9 that I would be a lawyer simply because my Dad was a lawyer. It was never a choice really. I never contemplated anything else. I was told that I wouldn’t get the necessary (then) HSC results to get into Melbourne University, which just made me more certain I was going.
I worked in Dad’s firm collecting bad debts during holidays and started reading Brett & Waller’s Criminal Cases to fill in time. The cases, and movies like “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, made me resolve to be a criminal advocate. I would love to be Atticus Finch.
University lectures convinced me that Crime had to be more interesting than Equity, Trusts, and Administrative Law.
What are you passions outside the law?
I play Bridge regularly, ride motorcycles, and love the great Australian outdoors – especially Central and Northern Australia.
If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?
I would follow the same path if I had a choice, although I always wanted to be Hawkeye Pierce – the ability to make a difference is important. I think however, that Criminal Barristers are the surgeons of the law!
What was the single moment, case or event that you feel defined you as a lawyer?
On 5 December 2003, I walked into Court 3.3 of the County Court and sat down to my welcome as a Judge. That moment defined me. Up until that time I was an advocate – a taxi waiting for a passenger. From then onwards I was clearly defined.
A lawyer, a priest and a classicist walk into a bar. What does the lawyer say and why?
“Never confess, and never put anything in writing.”
If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?
LISTEN – to your client, to the Judge, but most importantly to the answer of the witnesses you question.
So many young advocates are too busy thinking about their next question, and fail to register the gold a witness has just given them. Take time to LISTEN, analyse the answer, and then start the next question.
What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?
There is a difference between being a lawyer and an advocate. Some of the best lawyers make poor advocates. I always knew I was in trouble when I was forced to argue law. An advocate can establish facts that make the law irrelevant really. Most cases swing on their facts – facts can be altered; the law is pretty much fixed.
So a good advocate listens, has a strategy, gets to the point, and maintains his or her credulity with the tribunal of fact.
What is your best tip for maintaining sanity in the law?
Drink good scotch and develop good friends.
Short biography of the Honourable Judge Geoffrey Chettle:
- I was educated at Geelong College.
- Graduated from Melbourne University.
- Articles in Mildura in 1974.
- Spent 4 years at Wightons in Geelong before coming to the Bar in 1978.
- Appointed County Court Judge in 2003.