Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS)
Jessica participated in a College-arranged internship during Semester 1 2021 at the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, which acts as a bridge between the legal system and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
She is currently completing her Bachelor of Laws (Honours) after graduating with a Bachelor of International Relations.
What are the top three key lessons you have learned?
Throughout my internship, the most important lesson I learned was that as a lawyer, the principal thing you can do to help your clients is to listen. This may seem obvious at first, but I think it can be easy to forget the human element of law and become overly outcomes-driven. My supervising lawyer gave me the best piece of advice that many clients just want to have a yarn, and that listening and ensuring they felt heard was the foremost thing I could offer as the first point of contact.
Secondly, interning at a community legal centre provided me with the renewed perspective that studying and practising law is a privilege. Navigating the law is extremely complex, and we can take legal literacy for granted. My experiences at VALS showed me how far-removed legislation can be from the every day and the importance of making law accessible.
Finally, I learned that practising law isn't as daunting as it first may seem. Before my commencing my internship, I was very anxious about gaps in my substantive legal knowledge and my lack of prior legal work experience. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it less arduous than expected and immensely rewarding.
What advice would you offer current students embarking on an internship or new job?
Hit the ground running and take in as much as you can. Internships and entry-level positions are fundamentally a learning experience, and there are no dumb questions. No one expects you to be across the niches of any practice area, and certainly not all areas of the law. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback and view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. I was very fortunate that everyone at VALS was so generous with their time, and I found 1:1 feedback sessions extremely beneficial to my personal and professional development.
How did you apply what you have learned in the classroom during the internship?
We are fortunate at the ANU to have a law program intensely focused on law reform and social justice, which provides students with the opportunity to consider the law's effects more broadly. I found this perspective really helpful at VALS which, like many other community legal centres, engages in a lot of policy work. Additionally, the legal research skills I developed throughout my degree were essential to even the smallest of tasks, and I learned to never underestimate the value of being able to navigate AustLII or CaseBase competently.
Would you recommend undertaking an internship to other ANU Law students?
I would absolutely recommend undertaking an internship while studying if your circumstances allow you to do so - my only regret was not doing it earlier in my degree. Getting legal work experience has been beneficial to my understanding of the law and its operation, and I've found myself genuinely interested in the nitty-gritty of my subjects since. Ultimately, the LLB is a long program, and it was also reassuring to come out of my internship with the knowledge that I would like to practise in the future.