News & Stories

From Tassie's law school to US courtroom

Law student Sam Wilson shares his winter internship experience in Cape Cod.

When Sam Wilson started university in Launceston, he never imagined he would one day be representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a prosecutor within Cape Cod, USA.

Sam grew up in Scottsdale, located on Tasmania’s North East Coast, and after finishing high school in Launceston started his Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Laws locally at the Newnham campus.

What attracted me to Law was how flexible it is, because I had no idea what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something that wouldn’t lock me into one thing specifically but would still give me lots of avenues.

An opportunity arose during his third year of study that few students get to experience. Leveraging some connections in the USA, Sam reached out to the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts and was offered a winter internship alongside two American law students.

After a few weeks island-hopping on ferries to courthouses in the district to observe, one of Sam’s supervisors encouraged him to apply for a student prosecutor certificate. He jumped at the chance which provided the means to appear before a judge. Sam initially began making bail arguments in open court. He was then given the opportunity to make bail revocations, sit second seat in trials and appear in plea negotiations.

Not long after, the Kevin Spacey case came to court in Nantucket, and Sam was invited to watch on from the sidelines. As the story blew up in the media, the supervising attorneys asked Sam to find a case precedent to prevent certain public documents from being accessible to the media. Sam recognised a potential solution within preserving the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

If someone such as Mr. Spacey has a high profile, and if any documents were to be disclosed, this could potentially influence the jury pool. That was quite possible given House of Cards' popularity on Netflix. Nantucket, where the potential jury pool would be selected, is also quite small. An unbiased jury selection was vital.

“By chance I’d just been to the Supreme Judicial Court in Boston to watch a murder trial appeal. One of the cases in the briefing involved barring media access to otherwise public documents.”

Sam was able to reference the case he had come across just weeks earlier, which was accepted as a solid precedent and admitted to the case.

Despite working on real cases for the first time so many miles from home, Sam suggests that the Faculty of Law's unique emphasis on practice-based learning and advocacy opportunities gave him the confidence.

“We write arguments and we present them as part of our assessment. You're honing your legal research, but also developing court room etiquette, advocacy skills and the ability to think on your feet for this type of scenario.”

After considering moving to the mainland to pursue his Law degree, Sam opted to stay in Tasmania to be closer to friends and family and relocated to Hobart. He’s thankful he did.

“All the networking opportunities the Faculty of Law provides for students gives you the chance to rub shoulders with judges, prosecutors and civil litigators. Whatever your niche is, there’s a good chance someone throughout the year will come and talk to you about it.”

Now in his fourth year, Sam offers the following advice to anyone thinking about studying Law.

Take up all the opportunities law school has to offer and be excited about what can happen throughout your degree and after it, especially here at UTAS. The Faculty of Law is an advocacy powerhouse, and we have incredible resources here.

“Some of the other interstate and overseas universities may underestimate us, which is what makes it so much better when we come out swinging.”

Interested in Laws? Apply now to study a Bachelor of Laws.