During the winter break between semesters I was fortunate enough to undertake an Aurora internship with native title barristers Tina Jowett and Vance Hughston SC. In retrospect, I can confidently say that this was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever undertaken. The legal skills and knowledge I gained from my time at the Chambers are invaluable and something I do not think I would ever have obtained from my studies at university.
Whilst working with Tina and Vance I noticed that the majority of their work could be defined by reference to two key characteristics: diversity and duration. Having begun the internship with very little knowledge of the legal issues surrounding native title I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of cases before each barrister. Case subject matter ranged from determinations of native title, over both areas of land and sea, to issues surrounding claim group authorisation and sub-group classification. Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects was the significant intersection between native title law and other areas of law, including constitutional, administrative and property law. During my placement I was able to reinforce what I had learned at university and apply this to actual cases. In terms of duration, a lot of native title disputes extend over many years with a number of interlocutory hearings. It was very interesting to witness the relationships and rapport each barrister had built with their clients over such long periods of time and interaction. This is not to say however, that the work and environment was slow. In fact it was quite the opposite, being very-fast paced with a number of encroaching deadlines. This meant that multi-tasking was key to time management.
During my internship I worked quite independently on a number of active matters with duties ranging from small administrative tasks to larger, research based projects. A lot of my time was spent researching relevant cases and writing case notes which summarised key facts, issues and reasons for decision. In addition to this, I drafted submissions and affidavits, assisted with document management and client correspondence whilst also reading and tabulating evidence. Undertaking this broad range of tasks allowed me to engage with the law of native title, particularly the Native Title Act (Cth) 1993, whilst also allowing me to practice argument development and persuasive writing. One of the most interesting research tasks I undertook was not actually directly related to native title, rather, it involved conducting research into an unqualified person engaging in legal practice and representation before the court.
In addition to undertaking these tasks I was also fortunate enough to attend court with Vance, for an interlocutory hearing, and Tina, for a case management conference. Witnessing first-hand litigation and court procedure is a unique opportunity the Aurora internship provided me with and one which will greatly assist me in my future legal endeavours.
The primary reason I chose to undertake an Aurora internship was to gain an insight into the legal issues faced by Australian Indigenous people and the ways in which the law can either reconcile, or in some circumstances increase, such issues. Over a period of five weeks my understanding of the law and our legal system was entirely reassessed and re-evaluated. I learnt so much more than I ever expected, whilst developing my ability to think critically and solve legal problems. I will always value the time I spent learning about the practicalities of native title, an area of law I believe is so important and necessary for the future of our country.
I would highly encourage any law student or graduate looking to gain some real-life legal experience to apply for an Aurora internship. The skills you gain are invaluable and transferrable to all different aspects of life.