Judges’ Little Helpers

Justice Kirby writes in praise of Judge’s Little Helpers.  I was one such, and what a wonderful year it was for me.

I’m intrigued, somewhat, by the diminutive word little before the word helper.

The judge I worked for had, prior to me, two very tall associates (the more official name, in Australia, for judge’s helpers).  We had joked about my height and how the judge would have to find someone else to get things off high shelves because I’d be no use in that department.

One day, the judge called me into chambers and asked if I could reach something that had fallen down behind a large sort-of hall table / sideboard piece of furniture.  The something was a photograph in a frame, and there were heaps of other photographs in frames sitting on top of the sideboard, together with pot plants, vases, trinkets, mementoes and a glass head that was home to the judge’s wig.  I looked behind the sideboard: the frame was too far in to reach from the side, and the sideboard too tall for me to reach down from the top.  I cleared a few things from the sideboard, clambered on top and then hung my arm down between the back of the sideboard and the wall.  I did not even come close.

The judge said (something along the lines of): “Never mind.  I’ll retrieve it eventually.”

When you’re short, you have lots of little ways to get things that are too high or too far away or just somehow beyond your reach.  I’m always happy to jump for things if they’re not too heavy or fragile.  I like to have a little step in my kitchen so I can get at the things stored on the top shelf.  Coathangers are fantastically useful for hooking and pulling towards you things that have fallen behind other things and cannot be reached from the side.    “Give me a moment,” I said and disappeared.

I came back from the kitchen sporting chopsticks, short tongs, long tongs, and a long handled spoon.  With the spoon, I held the frame steady and captured it with the long tongs.  (The chopsticks were just a back up.)  I flourished the retrieved frame and the judge commented that neither of the last two associates would probably have gone about that quite the way I did.  I took the compliment, replaced the judge’s sideboard set-up and returned my miscellaneous items to the kitchen.

So, you know, little, well yes I was (still am).


As a caveat, I did heaps of incredibly intellectually challenging and interesting work.  Working for my judge was excellent.  I’m just not going to write about the substantive stuff here.

If you come a-reading here law students: apply to be a Judge’s Associate.  It is very much worth it.



    1. WC – there’s a whole essay in that 😀

      Mostly, though (putting aside the anachronism of it having once been fashionable and then lawyers just never quite got around to taking them off), it has to do with the judge being representative of the law and justice, rather than who they are as an individual (so the wig is more embraced in criminal matters than civil matters).


  1. Heh, I’m tall, but I still need tongs sometimes to get stuff from behind cupboards from time to time. My daughter rolls things behind the TV stand, then cries, and tongs really are the best way of retrieving them.

    And yes – I recommend being a Judge’s Associate too. It rocked.


    1. LE –
      One must get creative in response to the darndest places that children will hide things. In England, my partner’s boss’ kids like to put things behind the radiator. Usually absolutely favourite things which they must have straight away…


  2. I was a Judge’s Associate and I am short. I know exactly where you are coming from. This set of circumstances is particularly amusing when the Judge is having a slight wardrobe malfunction and is tangled in his robe and you can’t actually work out how to help …..

    Did you have the same problem as me that all the robes that fit were polyester because they were new, and the proper wool robes were all about fifty years old because they had been bought when almost all the Associates were men (and presumably tall ones at that?)


    1. Theodora –

      I absolutely had the same problem! All the robes were much too big, even though I performed a swap with a taller person whose predecessor was a shorty-pants too. Unlike some of my colleagues who could swish around looking all suave and mysterious like in their robes, I just disappeared into mine!

      I know very few associates who did not have a great time in their year…


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