UOW graduate snags influential law post
As one of Australia’s best young prosecutors, Thomas Spohr has already chalked up an impressive list of cases since graduating from UOW just seven years ago.
There’s the $45 million fraud case, where Rajina Subramaniam was found guilty of embezzling millions from her employees over five years, in one of Australia’s biggest individual frauds, which involved 600 pieces of designer jewellery, allegations of blackmail, high-end shopping sprees and loot that included Michael Jackson memorabilia.
Then there’s the string of high-profile homicides, the latest of which involves the unusual fact that video footage of the murder itself was found – inside the accused's apartment.
But for professional arguer Thomas Spohr, who has just been named President of NSW Young Lawyers – a 13,000-strong organisation that represents every lawyer under the age of 36 or in their first five years of practice, and all law students in Australia – it’s the smaller, less well known cases that are the sweetest.
“I had the extraordinary pleasure of defending a number of refugees who were prosecuted because of a protest they’d conducted in front of the Parramatta Town Hall,” Thomas, who was working as a defence lawyer at the time, said.
“They were charged with a number of offences for trying to bring attention to the events of a civil war in their homeland, Sri Lanka, by staging a sit-in and a hunger strike.
“The charges seemed, to me, unjustified. All the more so since, of all places, they ought to be entitled to protest outside a town hall. I managed some success in cross examining the various police involved and eventually the court agreed with me and the three young men were acquitted.”
“It was the kind of thing you dream about when you’re at Law School – doing a pro bono matter about important human rights issues.”
As the Vice-President and now President of NSW Young Lawyers, Thomas continues to make a real difference in the lives of people all around us.
“There are laws that exist because, through Young Lawyers, I was able to influence the process,” Thomas said.
“That sounds like a terribly arrogant thing to say, but really I was just very lucky to get involved in NSW Young Lawyers and the Law Society, both of which gave me the opportunity to meet very influential people who (against all reason) took what I said seriously and eventually (even more surprisingly) sometimes agreed with me. The chance to make a difference is the reason I give up huge amounts of my free time.”
In between sorting through “more emails than you would think is humanly possible”, staying on top of the work of 15 committees and submitting proposals to Parliaments and law reform bodies, not to mention continuing his day job of a Senior Solicitor within the NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Thomas said he tries as much as he can to give back to the next generation.
“I really like spending time with law students, who are extremely grateful to hear war stories about what it's like to be a lawyer, and have a surprising ability to ask questions which are deeply interesting.”
For the next year, while Thomas leads NSW Young Lawyers he will be building on the organisation’s 50-year legacy.
“We've recently made huge strides in policy and law reform work, we have award-winning mentoring programs (both in the city and regionally), we're working on helping law students to transition into a career that they can feel passionate about, and we have a number of programs that are designed to tackle the fact that lawyers disproportionately suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, “ Thomas said.
Beyond 2014, Thomas, who has also just been named as one of two new Councillors appointed to the Council of the NSW Law Society (along with Elizabeth Espinoza, also a UOW graduate), hopes to continue his advocacy work well into the future.
“If, 30 years from now, I can say that I have left the state of the law better than it was when I was in law school, then I'll count it as a successful career.”