Having worked in Policy for a few years I completed a Master of Laws to set my career in a more legal direction. I applied for the Aurora internship Program as I thought it would be a great opportunity to develop my legal skills and work with clients (and would keep me out of trouble while I looked for a job). I was placed with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) which seeks to provide legal services to disadvantaged Aboriginal clients in the Northern Territory.
During my internship I worked with the Welfare Rights team helping some very disadvantaged clients. The team assists clients that have tenancy, Centrelink and consumer debt issues. On my first day in a meeting with a client it became extremely clear that NAAJA clients faced a number of interacting problems that are not easy to solve. In that particular case we were trying to prevent the client from being evicted but the matter was entangled with issues of domestic violence. But that is also one of the great things about NAAJA, it centralises expertise in civil, family and welfare rights that allows clients to get assistance on a range of matters. And being an intern means that you help out wherever you are needed and can get a taste of all these areas of practice.
The problems faced by NAAJA’s clients are caused and compounded by a range of social disadvantage. It can be difficult to contact clients, to get clear instructions and generally to provide assistance. Over my 6 weeks at NAAJA it became clear that the solicitors have a great deal of perseverance, empathy and compassion.
I had the opportunity to draft complaints to Government authorities, correspondence to clients and conduct research. In particular I found the experience very helpful for interviews within the public sector as they require you to complete tasks that demonstrate your skills. My experience at NAAJA drafting letters to clients and attending client interviews meant that I had a model of what were the important points to make clear to clients, what questions you need to ask to get the information that you need and how to communicate with clients in plain English.
I also had the opportunity to draft correspondence commencing proceedings and this gave me good practice of litigation skills of identifying the facts you rely on for each element of an action and the evidence you have that supports that claim.
I had the opportunity to assist in research for a test case that considered whether Alcohol Protection Orders violated the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). 86% of recipients of Alcohol Protection Orders are Indigenous. The orders limit the individual’s access to public places, right to privacy and right to property. Though the application was dismissed the case raised interesting points that highlighted the social and cultural clash between the operation of white fella law and Aboriginal social and cultural values.
Darwin in the wet is hot and humid. But there are plenty of opportunities to travel to Katherine, Litchfield and Kakadu to cool off in the waterfalls that the crocs haven’t go to yet. The staff at NAAJA were incredibly welcoming and included the interns in work and social functions. There is also a bunch of interns and other young people around town to make friends with.
Being an Aurora intern at NAAJA was a rewarding experience. It is likely to open your eyes to how the law operates in practice and the complexities of social disadvantage in the NT. It will provide you with the opportunity to improve your legal skills and provide some assistance to those who really need it.
For more information about the Aurora Internship program see www.auroraproject.com.au