Canberra is full of opportunities, so I would strongly encourage students interested in finding meaningful and fulfilling real world experience, to seize these opportunities, to constantly improve their knowledge base, and work toward their personal development and growth.
In retrospect, 2018 was an incredibly busy, sometimes frustrating, but overall incredibly rewarding year. I completed 10 courses at ANU, while handling multiple extra-curricular activities including volunteering at the ACT Youth Law Centre, helping with editing the Federal Law Review and interning at the Academic Network of the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA). Despite being challenging at times, these experiences were invaluable to my personal development and growth.
Volunteering at the ACT Youth Law Centre
Over the 2018 winter break, I volunteered as a paralegal at the ACT Youth Law Centre. Despite the program running only once a week, the experience was incredibly eye-opening, rewarding, and particularly intense for me because it was my first experience in a legal work setting. I remember being thrown into the deep end from the first day. We were tasked with handling a range of dynamic tasks: from handling walk-ins and calls from potential clients at the reception desk; to interviewing clients and assisting with the drafting of various applications and letters. We would juggle these duties with complementary routines: legal research to bolster a case, managing legal files, and contacting clients to follow up on cases.
This experience allowed me to build extremely relevant and practical soft-skills. The fast pace of work required both initiative and keen focus, as each day was filled with a dynamic stream of new issues and a mixture of ongoing cases that we were still familiarising ourselves with. Moreover, having to constantly interact with a variety of clients both in written form and face-to-face, helped me tremendously with building genuine rapport while maintaining professionalism – altogether valuable critical skills I would not have sharpened in the library or the classroom.
Overall, this experience was an incredibly rewarding one, which made me realise that even the smallest contributions can greatly affect others. I recall having to schedule an appointment for a woman calling on behalf of her daughter. Although I did not get to work on her daughter’s case, the mother was very appreciative of the time I took to listen to their story, especially since they had both expended all of their options and were almost ready to give up. Inevitably, during our time as volunteers, we got an intimate look at some unsettling stories, but these cases also became very instructive reminders on how to live life better.
We also worked with really good people. The solicitors at the YLC were nothing short of amazing, they were all very engaging, patient and sharp-witted. Given the nature and quality of the work expected at the centre, the senior student paralegals were all extremely helpful and very patient in their guidance, making each day there a sincere pleasure, despite the challenges.
Member of the Federal Law Review student editor team
I was also a member of the student editor team on the Federal Law Review, a quarterly journal published by the ANU College of Law. I helped edit submissions. We were given tight deadlines, and expected to not only ensure absolute fidelity to the AGLC, but also express discretion in directing improvements to the actual text, while retaining an appropriate amount of deference to the author’s stylistic choices.
For my first article, I made an immeasurable amount of careless mistakes because of my lack of experience and some poor decision-making. When I got a little “chewed out” by my teammates, I initially took the negative feedback personally, and was tempted to abandon my position, especially with the added stress created from the large amount of assessments that I needed to work on.
Fortunately, I received great insights from friends and other editors, and decided to shift my perspective and persevere. Ultimately, the role allowed me to heighten my attention to detail and become more efficient. I think it was also a good reminder of an important principle: the difficulties that may beset us through seasons should not necessarily be prescriptive of an entire lifetime, and we should instead perceive them as challenges that signal opportunities for growth and development.
Interning at the Academic Network of the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA)
I was also very fortunate to work as an intern at the Academic Network of the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA). My supervisor, ANU Associate Professor Dr Jeremy Farrall and Convenor of the UNAA Academic Network, is fantastic to work with, and I have received a lot of guidance and support from him, for which I am very grateful.
As an intern, I was given the opportunity to draft four sections for the UNAA’s Annual Human Rights Position Paper; support the Academic Network’s expansion with tasks such as engaging with academics, and attend very insightful public lectures hosted or supported by the UNAA including a lecture by Dr Fernand de Varennes, the current UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues. With topics ranging from how the informal politicization of the judiciary affects the rule of law, to the boundaries of international disaster law, my deeper engagement with and exposure to different fields gave me greater insight into my law studies.
In conclusion, I gained a lot from these experiences including a better perspective into the practicality and the relevance of international law, and real world experience in a legal work setting. I was also reminded of the need for critical and pragmatic optimism in forming my understandings of the world. When I came to Australia, I never imagined I would be involved in any of these experiences.
Canberra is perhaps a really apt location to be studying law. Studying here is chock full of opportunities, so I would strongly encourage students interested in finding meaningful and fulfilling real world experience, to seize these opportunities, to constantly improve their knowledge base, and work toward their personal development and growth.