By Bess Keaney
A career in practice – or indeed the law – wasn’t always on the cards for Victoria’s new Solicitor-General, MLS alumna Kristen Walker.
It was a minor “rebellion” that led Kristen Walker QC (LLB(Hons), BSc 1991, LLM 1996) to enrol first in an engineering degree at the University of Melbourne, before transferring to a double degree in science and law.
“My father was a barrister and so I used to say that I would never study law,” she says.
“Then when I did study law, I said I was never going to practise law.”
Walker also had a fear of public speaking, which she says she overcame by mooting at Melbourne Law School. She credits many of her teachers at MLS for inspiring her love of constitutional law and with mentoring her over the years, particularly Professor Cheryl Saunders, Professor Michael Crommelin, Professor Hilary Charlesworth and Professor Greg Craven.
Fast-forward to November 2017 and, after 13 years as an academic and another 13 as a barrister, Walker was appointed as Victoria’s Solicitor- General. The role effectively makes her the principal legal advisor to the Victorian Government.
“It’s a wonderful job,” she says. “Everything that comes across my desk is interesting.”
It is quite similar to being a barrister in a number of ways, except that you only have one client. Nonetheless, you advise that client [and you] represent that client in court.
Upon graduating from the University in 1991, winning the Supreme Court Prize as the top performing law student, Walker took an associateship at the High Court with Sir Anthony Mason, then Chief Justice of Australia. While the experience “opened a lot of doors” to the profession, it was to Melbourne Law School that Walker returned to pursue her first ambition: academia.
Based at MLS, and with some time at Columbia Law School and the University of Arizona, Walker researched and taught primarily in the areas of constitutional and international law. Eventually the desire to put into practice some of the things she was teaching led her to the Bar.
Four days after signing the Bar roll, in 2004, Walker addressed the full bench of the High Court. She counts the experience as a “career highlight”.
It was the start of what has been a pretty amazing practice for me as a barrister.
In her time at the Bar, Walker worked extensively on constitutional and refugee cases, including voting rights cases in 2007 and 2010 and the ‘Malaysian solution’ case in 2011, mainly before the High Court. She worked as a junior with Solicitors-General Pamela Tate and Stephen McLeish and took silk in 2014. Along the way she juggled family life with practise at the Bar — she and her partner, MLS Professor Miranda Stewart, have a 15 year-old son.
In the end, Walker’s training for the role of Solicitor-General couldn’t have been more ideal. With an extensive background in constitutional law – both in academia and in practice – Walker is well-placed to handle the role’s largely constitutional focus.
“My experience meant that I knew what the role involved and I knew that I would love to have that role one day,” she says.
“So this was the perfect job for me really.”
This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 19, May 2018