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Nursing a legal career

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Cite as: (2005) 79(9) LIJ, p. 38

Audrey Jamieson has had an unconventional path to the magistracy.

Magistrate Audrey Jamieson will be drawing on her experiences during her 14-year nursing career as she faces the challenges of her new role as a Victorian coroner.

Ms Jamieson, 50, was appointed to the Coroner’s Court in June this year, about six months after completing a non-traditional path to the magistracy.

A registered nurse at the Alfred Hospital in Prahran from 1975, Ms Jamieson worked her way up to the cardio-thoracic intensive care and coronary unit.

Then she made an unusual move for the time – she went to Monash University in 1984 to study law, finishing her degree in 1988.

“I remember people thinking I was unique at the time, particularly when I started studying law,” she said. “The doctors found that quite intimidating ... but my nursing colleagues were very supportive and encouraging.”

Working part-time as a nurse while studying law full-time, Ms Jamieson recalled a frantic period of dashing from work to lectures and snatching sleep after night shifts.

She said she had reached a point where she wanted to progress in her nursing career but was not attracted to the administrative or teaching roles that were the next career step.

“It was a big decision because it wasn’t as though I didn’t enjoy nursing,” she said.

“I enjoyed the hands-on clinical nursing. Part of my reason for wanting to find another career was also that I was doing cardio-thoracic intensive care work and I thought that physically and mentally this would eventually take its toll on me. I thought I needed to find something else to do for the rest of my working life.”

Ms Jamieson was an articled clerk and solicitor at Holding Redlich where she was involved in workers’ compensation and other complex litigation. She then moved to Maurice Blackburn Cashman in 1992, where she was a partner and involved in managing the compensation practice, personal injury litigation section and strategic planning.

Ms Jamieson said she was enjoying the legal work but again found herself wondering: “Where to now?”.

An appointment on the Nurses Board of Victoria from 2001 to 2004 opened her mind to new possibilities.

“I was sitting on the formal hearings for nurses in relation to conduct and suitability for practice on health issues,” she said.

“I was quite stimulated by that and it got me thinking a bit more laterally about what I was doing in private practice. I thought I would really like to do this all the time – inquiring into and coming to decisions, so that’s when I put down an application for some sort of judicial appointment.”

Just six months into her new magistrate’s job, Ms Jamieson was assigned as one of Victoria’s five coroners for a two-year period.

“Given my background, I had always thought long term I would like to be a coroner but it has just come up a bit quicker than I anticipated,” she said.

Ms Jamieson said her nursing background would help her in her coroner’s role.

“In this role, particularly in relation to anything to do with medical deaths or medical records, and reviewing them, I find that still very interesting and probably a bit easier to pick things up than someone who has never done it before,” she said.

“In nursing, of course, it can be very rewarding for people to get better and to go home. As a coroner I am not going to see that. I am always going to be dealing with death and how that affects families and other people involved.

“[But] I think what I am excited about is being involved in trying to improve systems and the ability of coroners to be involved in making recommendations about improving health and safety in the workplace, or practices in hospitals.”

Ms Jamieson said having life experiences apart from the law was not essential for the judiciary but was a good thing to have.

“The problem I think of only ever doing the one thing, such as law, is that often people who go into law are from backgrounds where they have more advantages and opportunities in life than other people,” she said.

“I think there is always the risk then that lawyers, as with doctors, are a bit insular to what other things affect people in life, such as trauma of illness or trauma of injury and things that I may have seen and dealt with in nursing.

“And so I think it gives me a greater empathy for people and understanding of their backgrounds than, say, other people who haven’t had such a diverse employment history,” Ms Jamieson said.

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