Madeline Pywell

Aboriginal Legal Services
Summer 2017

3 days after completing my final third year Contract Law exam, I set off on a 7-hour drive to the rural town of Lismore in NSW! I was about to partake in a 5 week, full-time internship with the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) as part of the Aurora Internship Program.

Although I had researched the organisation, been in contact with my supervisor and read many feedback articles written by previous ALS interns, nothing could’ve prepared me for the journey I was about to embark on!

Although they may be regarded as mundane, the administrative tasks that I completed throughout my internship greatly increased my professional skillset. My confidence and competency in completing file notes, making phone calls, preparing briefs and writing letters greatly increased.
I was also lucky enough to have the opportunity to directly engage with clients, the courts and other legal professionals. I became extremely familiar with the workings of both the Local and District Courts – I was even lucky enough to make a small mention before the Magistrate! I worked alongside Barristers, discussing everything from court procedures to cross-examination techniques and assisting in the preparation of briefs for counsel. I also observed many client interviews, meeting a diverse range of people with different stories. One aspect of the ALS that I had little knowledge about was the fantastic work they do with local community and rehabilitation organisations. 

All the solicitors worked extremely hard to advocate for sentencing options that enabled clients to have the opportunity to implement positive changes in their lives. I can confidently say that no matter where my study of the law takes me, I will always make a conscious effort to connect with members of the community and provide advice or representation that is person-centred and principled.

I am extremely thankful for the opportunities and experiences I had throughout my time with the ALS. I now have a deeper understanding of the issues contributing to the over-representation of Indigenous Australians within the Criminal Justice System. There are two key moments that stand out to me as highly insightful within this area.

Firstly, we spent numerous days entirely within the Children’s Local Court, interviewing and representing the young persons present that day. At times, I found this extremely confronting. It impressed upon me the power that environmental influences can have on an individual’s life, and how the justice system must continue to work alongside education, rehabilitation and social institutions.

Secondly, despite the rule of law that individuals are ‘innocent until proven guilty’, many people have difficulty understanding how legal professionals can represent those with charges against them. Towards the end of my placement we met with a client whom we soon learnt would enter a guilty plea purely to avoid the effort, time, risk and perceived imbalance of powers involved in defending the allegations against him. A ‘convenience plea’ as such demonstrates the continuing obstacles that everyday individuals face when engaging with the criminal justice system.
Overall, my experience with the Aurora Placements team and the ALS in Lismore exceeded any and all expectations I had and I highly recommend fellow students to apply!