Law graduate Tom Taylor and the front row of criminal defence
The ACT Supreme Court is an austere building of glass and concrete, an orderly façade that is at odds with the often messy human drama playing out in its ultramodern interior.
It’s a place where Southern Cross law graduate and criminal defence specialist Tom Taylor has seen things most of us would find hard to believe. “A colleague recently described our profession as ‘a front row to the absurd’. It’s raw, about people’s lives, that’s true, and sometimes really difficult, but it can also be a lot of fun and so stimulating,” he said.
Tom began his first career as a professional lifeguard and studied Sports Management and Business before transferring to a law degree. He was one of the first students at the Southern Cross University Gold Coast campus, graduating in 2012.
“Southern Cross just really appealed to me. I liked the idea of studying regionally. When I became a student I loved the personalised approach with small classes but especially the feeling of being part of a like-minded community and the strong focus on social justice, which is very important to me,” said Tom.
He is now a partner in Canberra-based firm, McKenna Taylor, specialising in criminal defence.
“People associate us vicariously with the people we represent sometimes and the crimes they are accused of, and I have certainly experienced that. But we are in the privileged position of advocating for our clients and that sometimes changes the direction of their lives.
“A lot of people who end up in the criminal justice system are from disadvantaged groups. The saying, that a true measure of a society is how it treats the vulnerable and disadvantaged, really rings true for me”.
An illustration is one of his most memorable cases in the NSW District Court, when Tom represented a young woman in breach of a curfew condition, imposed after she was convicted of shoplifting. “Her life so far had been rough and she already had a fairly significant criminal record for a young person. Her parents had both passed away, one from suicide and one from a heroin overdose—both of which she witnessed in some form.
One night she was drugged and sexually assaulted, and subsequently breached her curfew condition. Her bond was revoked and she was re-sentenced to a term of imprisonment. I successfully appealed the severity of that sentence and she was released back into the community. Afterwards, she came up to me and said, ‘I’ve never ever had anyone fight for me like that before’. That has really stayed with me”.
The tight-knit legal profession is also a highlight. “The collegial aspect to law is just fantastic, it’s what I miss the most during lockdown actually,” he said, adding, “it has taken me a few years to get the mix right but at the heart of it, I’m doing law I love with good people. I haven’t looked back.”
Interested in a career as a criminal defence lawyer? Find out more about studying law at Southern Cross University.
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