Judge Rita Incerti
Supreme Court Judge
She graduated second in her year from the University of Melbourne while parenting two small children and went from articled clerk to judge in just 14 years. Before that she spent a decade as a high school and special education teacher. In her spare time, she runs a sideline practice in Socceroos super-fandom and has attended just about every major Socceroos game on the planet! We asked Justice Rita Incerti to tell us ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ about her amazing career.
What work do you do?
I’m a judge in the trial division of the Supreme Court of Victoria. I preside over cases in the civil and criminal jurisdictions.
What are some of the things you do every day in your role?
I hear cases in court. If they are jury trials, I prepare what is called a charge for the jury and if it is a judge alone case I write judgments after I have finished hearing the evidence.
Did you know what you wanted to do when you were at school?
When I was at school I knew I wanted to be a teacher and that I specifically wanted to work with people who had learning difficulties. I had volunteered at an organisation that provided employment opportunities for people with an intellectual disability in year 11 and this experience helped to guide my career choice.
How did you get started?
After high school I completed an arts degree and a Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching. I initially worked at a public high school for five years and then moved into special education where I completed my Diploma in Special Education.
While I was teaching at a residential facility for adults with an intellectual disability, I became interested in working as an advocate for people with an intellectual disability within the justice system. After the birth of my son I applied and was accepted into the Bachelor of Law at Melbourne Uni, which then launched me into my legal career.
What do you love most about what you do? (Please give an example)
I love being able to weigh up the evidence to make fair and just decisions on behalf of the community. A privilege of my work is that each day I feel that the work I do matters to people’s lives.
The decisions I make have a lasting impact and effect on people’s lives and I take that responsibility very seriously. I’m honoured to hear people’s personal stories, both victims and offenders and their families – I get a unique insight into people’s lives and circumstances.
What makes you feel confident at work? (or study)
Preparation is the foundation of my confidence. Accepting that I need to ask for help and that I will not always know the answer immediately reduces my anxiety and increases my confidence. Experience certainly helps my confidence.
What are you afraid of and how do you cope with that?
I’m mostly afraid of disappointing the people around me, particularly my family and colleagues. I manage this by setting realistic expectations and reminding myself that people do not expect perfection and respect and care for you with all your imperfections.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
My appointment to the Supreme Court and having my parents attend my welcome at the Banco Court.
Who helped you get to where you are today?
So many people helped me get to where I am today. Foremost my parents who instilled in me the value of education and wanting my sister and I to always be able to look after ourselves financially and in life generally. When I did my law degree I had two young children and my husband spent most weekends for four years parenting alone so I could study. At times when It was very difficult but he would quietly encourage me and always find practical ways to give me time to study.
What was your biggest failure along the way?
I don’t regard failure a bad thing. In year 11 I failed most of my end of year subjects. I was young and didn’t take my schoolwork seriously. My school was going to ban me from doing VCE. When I told my father he didn’t yell or rant. He simply asked me to let him and my mother give me the greatest gift – the gift of education. He said if he gave me $1m, I could lose it in no time, whereas no one could ever take my education from me. The next day we went to see my school principal and dad asked her to give me another chance. Even at university I failed a subject in second year, not because of lack of trying but because I found it hard. I repeated the subject and learned to ask for help sooner than later.
Do you have any advice for girls thinking about a career in your industry?
The law governs so many aspects of our life. The rule of law underpins a fair and just society. If you are thinking of a career in the law, ask yourself why. The satisfying part of a career in the law for me is the ability to help people in so many ways.
What are your thoughts about the future of work in your industry?
Legal practice is very competitive in today’s market. However, this should not be a reason to not consider a career in the law. You need to accept that the path to practice might not be direct. Whether you practice or not does not matter, it is a wonderful foundation for so many areas of work.
In your wildest dreams, what would you love to do and get paid for it?
Be a Matilda! I love my soccer and I’m a huge Melbourne Victory fan. I was lucky enough to meet most of the members of the 2006 World Cup team in Germany at the World Cup.