Kristina Kothrakis – Criminal Lawyer

Kristina completed her degree at Monash University and also completed a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Psychology. She is fluent in Greek and volunteers at the Broadmeadows Community Legal Centre.  

Where did you go recently that put Band-Aids on your feet?

Ahhhh, going to court every day.

So it’s not a party/new shoe injury then?

No, definitely not. I go to all different courts around Melbourne and I work through my shoes so quickly that I’m constantly wearing new ones and picking up blisters to match.

Criminal Law - you’ve chosen to defend people who have pleaded guilty?

I just think it’s such an important area of law. You’re dealing with really marginalised people that don’t have the skill set to represent themselves. It's not really about condoning poor behaviour it’s making sure the system is working correctly and everyone gets a fair go.

When did this direction come to you?

It happened after uni. I left my degree feeling pretty disenchanted actually. Monash Uni has a really strong emphasis on corporate law. They give you the sense that if you’re not going to do articles at the top tier firms, then you’re a bit of a waste. So, I really didn’t know what I was going to do after I finished uni. I did a double degree with Science. I kind of had some options open but I knew I wanted to be a lawyer at the end of it, I just didn’t know what one (laughs).

Science would have been an interesting combination with Law?

Yeah, not many people did it. But I did Science all through school and so I kind of had it in my head that I was into Science (laughs). Which actually I wasn’t (laughs). I wasn’t even very good at it, I don’t know what gave me that impression (laughs).

Do you still get a little nervous walking into court?

Yeah, but not nervous in the sense that, ‘Oh god I have to speak in front of all those people’, just nervous because I want to do a good job and I hope I can answer the questions that the judge might ask - that kind of nervous.

You defend and support the law for people who are marginalised and who are in that position where others want to dislike them (and sometimes you). Therefore you’re bearing the weight of people’s emotions and opinions but you have to use the law to stop that emotion dominating the decision making – that’s a fairly big ask.

Yeah, people often say, ‘Oh how can you do that, these people are going to get what they deserve’, but often if I spend (only) five minutes telling them about the person, they’re completely turned around, saying – ‘Oh god I hope they don’t go to gaol!’

There are so many people practising criminal law and obviously not all of them went to Woodleigh, but one of the things Woodleigh teaches you is ‘No Judgement’ and ‘Respect for People’.

And you’ve got that comfortably in your system?

Yeah, I don’t know what motivates other people to work in criminal law, but that’s certainly my instinct and it’s been like this for many, many years I think. I don’t know, I think it’s got a lot to do with the type of environment we went to school in and going right through Minimbah, right through Woodleigh, I’ve got it! (Laughs, nice laugh too).

No judgement, got it.

Yeah, and just respect people.

"I loved the culture and I love that we didn’t have a uniform and we got to be a little bit scrappy. Kids should be. They shouldn’t have to worry about what they look like. I know, I hated it when Mum used to make me polish my Blundstones. I’d get straight off the bus and rub them in the dirt."

You’ve had proof that the first moment is not necessarily the only one to be judged on. That must require a ton of patience.

You’ve got to have a lot of patience. But I guess it’s not only something that you learn through training on the job, if you have it innately it makes it a lot easier.

That’s not just through schooling - that’s from your parents and environment as well?

Yeah, definitely, I grew up in a very loving and respectful household, which helped.

Any great memories?

Most are great, I loved our assemblies - I loved that they were student run.

Even from Minimbah days?

Yeah and if you were in a band you got to play a song, and no one even cared if they kept on playing the same song (laughs). You know when Mr Macmillan was there, I loved that at assembly he paid someone $5 if they could spell his name correctly. It was just informal and fun and an opportunity for the whole school to get together.

I loved sitting in the Bush Chapel and in Anna’s Garden.

I had a really hilarious moment not so long ago, where I was working on a case and the prosecutor was another guy that was in my year level at Woodleigh and the barrister that I briefed (I had no idea) he went to Woodleigh as well, although he was from the class of '87 and I just randomly said to him that I went to school with the prosecutor and he said, ‘Which school is that?’ and I said, ‘Oh, just a little school on the Peninsula,’ and he said – ‘Wasn’t Woodleigh was it?’ So at that moment the prosecutor, the defence and the barrister all came from the same little school on the Peninsula.

There were three lawyers in my year level alone.

So why were you picked for this book?

I don’t know (laughs). I have no idea what the selection criteria was.

I adore Woodleigh. I spruik it to any person who will listen to me. I have got nothing but the best memories of feeling like I was at a place that was different to most. Even though I have no experience of any other schools I just knew that Woodleigh was different and I loved the culture and I love that we didn’t have a uniform and we got to be a little bit scrappy. Kids should be. They shouldn’t have to worry about what they look like. I know, I hated it when Mum used to make me polish my Blundstones. I’d get straight off the bus and rub them in the dirt.

Text and images taken from Woodleigh School's 40th anniversary publication 'Independent Thoughts.'

Interview by Emma Griffin – Photography by Amy Woodward.