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Sarah Finnin
Class of 1999

After graduating from Ivanhoe Girls’ 20 years ago, I have enjoyed a varied start to my career in the law. My studies and work have taken me to many interesting places, from Washington D.C. to Shanghai, from Alice Springs to New Caledonia, from Toronto to the Central African Republic.

I began my legal career in Australia, where I worked for a Supreme Court judge in Victoria and as a criminal prosecutor in the Northern Territory. I also spent some time completing a PhD at Melbourne University and working for a military law centre. Having developed a strong interest in international law, I then moved to The Hague (a small city in the Netherlands which is home to many international institutions). I spent five years as a war crimes prosecutor with the United Nations before taking up a position with a French human rights organisation last year.

My advice to anyone who wants to work in a similar field—or in any field, for that matter—is to make time for volunteer work. Volunteer work is interesting, engaging and fulfilling. In fact, some of my best experiences to date have been as a volunteer.

My advice to anyone who wants to work in a similar field—or in any field, for that matter—is to make time for volunteer work. Volunteer work is interesting, engaging and fulfilling. In fact, some of my best experiences to date have been as a volunteer. My volunteer roles and internships have allowed me to do things I never thought possible: travelling to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base as part of the defence team for terror suspect David Hicks, providing legal aid to refugees in a hotspot in the Greek islands, and working on a Parliamentary inquiry into the Bali bombings.

Volunteering has many benefits. It allows you to explore the field you are interested in before you formally enter the workforce or commit to a particular career path. Later on, volunteering can help you identify and transition into a different role or make a career change. Volunteer work also helps you develop skills and gain valuable practical experience. This is particularly important in the early stages of your career. Any internships or volunteer positions that you can include when applying for your first job will make you stand out amongst the many other young women with similar profiles. 

Finally, volunteering can open doors. Your willingness to devote your free time to others demonstrates commitment and allows future employers to see what you are really made of. Oftentimes, that commitment will be rewarded either directly (e.g. with an offer of employment) or indirectly (e.g. by expanding your network or providing a mentor). It’s never too early to begin volunteering, so I suggest you start looking for opportunities while you are still at school and that you continue to make volunteering a priority throughout your careers.