Many foreign students move to Australia to fulfil their dream of being a lawyer. It’s a nation ranked among the Top 10 Countries in Which to Practise Law, which, combined with its #2 global ranking for quality of life, makes it a comely prospect for any would-be lawyer.
For Italian-born Australian lawyer Ciro Figaro, however, the pursuit of law was always more than a career. A soon-to-be graduate of The College of Law, Figaro began his legal career on the sun-kissed streets of Naples, where he dreamed of opposing the Camorra crime clans that were working to corrupt his city from within.
“Like many Neapolitan children, I was encouraged to study not only because I was living in an intellectually stimulating city, with one of the most ancient and prestigious universities, but also because studying gave me an alternative to a false model of life proposed by the crime organisation in Naples,” Figaro said to Insights.
“One of the events that inspired me the most was the story of Italy’s most famous anti-mafia judges, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were killed by the crime organisation. They grew up in a difficult social context, but studying hard and keeping their values intact, they were able to fight a corrupted system, showing that you can rely on the law: identifying a new form of criminal conduct (‘external participation to a crime organisation’) they were able to get through to the white collars involved.”
After graduating with Honours, Figaro found himself working at a law firm under the guidance of a senior lawyer with over 30 years’ experience in criminal law. His time there gave him a new insight into the role of the law in criminal cases.
“In a particularly memorable case we were defending a member of the government accused of being involved with the traffic and disposal of illegal and contaminated material collected by European factories and hidden underground in Italy in exchange for costly charges,” Figaro said.
“What made the situation worse was that many people from the area used to hide the contaminated material were dying from cancer.
“Despite the accusations, the chain of causation was broken and we won the case. I remember that the senior lawyer assessing my doubts about this matter told me to keep in mind that justice is not about punishment, but about the proportionate and fair punishment – indeed, our client was only negligent in his conduct and other members of the government were found responsible.”
Figaro’s aim was to become a public prosecutor and further the crusade of Judges Falcone and Borsellino. Before he could finish his studies as a prosecutor, however, something happened for which Figaro could not prepare: on a tour of the Guinness Factory in Dublin, Figaro met and fell in love with an Australian woman. The two travelled back and forth for some time, but in 2012 love prevailed, and Figaro moved to Australia.
Naturally, it wasn’t long before Figaro re-focused on his calling.
“After my first year in Australia as a non-law student I felt I had to go back to what was my passion,” Figaro said.
“In moving to a new country you can face loneliness, stress, and other difficulties, but having the right support and focus on your passion can get you anywhere you want.”
Sure enough, after three years of requalifying in Australia, Figaro obtained his LLB from the University of Sydney. He is now on the cusp of being admitted as a NSW solicitor, and has already accrued experience as a paralegal in contract law, property law, and civil litigation.
For other overseas lawyers looking to qualify in Australia, Figaro says the process will provide a firmer grasp of how legislators make laws in any system.
“Anyone who is passionate about law should approach comparative studies, and for overseas-qualified lawyers I would definitely suggest considering the bridging process in the Australian legal system,” he said.
“Despite the fact that I was a mature-aged student I enjoyed studying law under a new view that I now find more practical, flexible, and surely capable to suit the current reality.”