My five weeks at NAAJA were filled with some of the most interesting and hands-on legal work I have done thus far in my, admittedly baby, legal career. I had a little experience of criminal law in NSW after working at a women's domestic violence court advocacy service but, to be completely honest, I never saw myself working in the criminal defence field. After seeing the vital work that NAAJA does for Indigenous communities in the Top End, I can definitely say that I would consider working for a criminal defence organisation like NAAJA in the future.
Due to my student exchange for the first half of 2017, I came to Darwin after the bulk of winter university student interns had come and gone, which I think had its positives and negatives. I wasn't able to connect with other Aurora interns in person in Darwin (apart from one who arrived just as I was leaving!) but luckily for me, I had a few friends from Sydney in Darwin at the same time and lucked out with two lovely housemates. It also meant that I had effectively free choice of intern tasks.
I was extremely lucky in the breadth and largely non-administrative nature of the tasks that I did while at NAAJA. I quickly learnt that if I wanted to avoid twiddling my thumbs, I would have to ask around the office for tasks and take every opportunity that came my way. As a result, most of the time I wasn't in the office but rather attending the Magistrates' Court, the Youth Court or the Supreme Court to observe proceedings of NAAJA clients, help take instructions from clients in custody and also from 'walk-ins', make referrals for clients and to do basically anything else the duty solicitors needed a hand with.
Observing in court might not sound like much but for someone fresh out of law school like me, it was fascinating to see NAAJA solicitors in action, trying to convince the magistrate on a bail application or to persuade Her or His Honour that a lesser sentence was more appropriate in the circumstances, for example. I think it's really important to understand court processes and procedures and to see persuasive techniques in play, especially if a career in advocacy is anywhere near your radar. I was also given the opportunity to instruct a NAAJA solicitor on a five-day Supreme Court trial from start to finish which was a definite highlight.
When I was in the office, I worked on research on specific points of law, such as mitigating circumstances of possession of an offensive weapon, research in preparation for a reform submission on the mandatory sentence for murder, and sentencing comparisons for a variety of solicitors. I made summaries of police Body Worn Footage which we started receiving due to legislation that had come into force recently. I wrote case summaries for youth clients to be used internally and it was extraordinary to flick through reports on the lives of some of NAAJA's youngest and most vulnerable clients.
In the very last week of my internship, I assisted two NAAJA solicitors, a client service officer and a barrister at a bush court sitting in Wadeye. This was a truly unique experience and I had a fantastic time both exploring Wadeye and interacting with clients on the three insanely busy court days.
The NAAJA Criminal team is huge and I found all the solicitors welcoming and incredibly knowledgeable, even though some of them had just started at NAAJA themselves. What struck me immediately was how willing everyone was to make my experience more meaningful. I am truly grateful for my five weeks in Darwin and would recommend the experience to any law student or graduate.
Details can be found on the Aurora Internship Program website: http://auroraproject.com.au/internship-program
Applications are open twice a year. Applications for the winter 2018 round will be open from 5 through 30 March 2018.