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My Aurora Internship

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The concept of forsaking your entire winter holiday to undertake an unpaid work experience placement might not seem particularly appealing, especially if you’re a law student. After all, a semester of sleep deprivation and trawling through the minutiae of case law and legislation should be enough to earn anyone an uninterrupted month of Game of Thrones marathons and coffee dates. But I reasoned that the skills and experience to be gained from taking on an Aurora internship would be worth the short-term sacrifice – and I wasn’t wrong.

The Aurora Native Title Internship Program places students and graduates at organisations working in areas of Indigenous affairs and social justice. The title of the program is therefore not all-inclusive as some of the organisations that take on Aurora interns lay outside the purview of native title. My host organisation, Terri Janke & Company Pty Ltd, is one of them. Terri’s law firm specialises in protecting Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property, which encompasses everything from writing cultural protocols, research agreements and contracts of engagement for Indigenous artists.

Aurora interns are advised to approach their internships with humble expectations. We are reminded that we are there to alleviate the pressure on the host organisations so that they can focus on the important work. This might mean that we are stuck with ‘boring’ or mundane work, but fortunately for me, my work was far from boring.

The first task that I was asked to complete was to write an article on research protocols that Terri developed for the Kimberley Land Council a few years back. This article was to serve twin aims of promoting the work of the firm and being published in an Indigenous law journal. Although academic writing and marketing seemed incompatible to me at first, reading a similar article that Terri co-wrote with her former paralegal showed me that the styles could be quite seamlessly blended. I spent my first two days reading the relevant case file and wrapping my head around the process of producing the protocols and felt that the actual writing part came easily after that.

After finishing up with the article and receiving positive feedback, I was entrusted with writing a series of case studies on implementing the Indigenous cultural protocols that Terri had developed for the Australia Council for the Arts. This involved reading through case files and figuring out from them how the firm had gone about following these cultural protocols in facilitating the development of creative works. Completing these case studies not only gave me an opportunity to refine my research and writing skills, but was also an interesting way for me to learn the basics of copyright law and gain an understanding of Indigenous culture. I now also have an appreciation for case files as an invaluable record of work.

Despite being perfectly content with contributing to publications, Terri was eager to give me some practical legal experience by letting me draft a letter of advice to one of her clients, as well as letters of correspondence related to the matter. I found this aspect of the internship particularly enjoyable as I was able to directly apply skills that I had learnt in the classroom to a real-life problem, renewing my faith in the relevance of law school.

Starting work somewhere new can be a bit daunting, but I was made to feel welcome and part of the team right from day one. Having had such a rewarding experience, I was quite saddened by the prospect of leaving the firm. Thankfully, I didn’t have to, because I was offered a part-time/casual job as a paralegal.

I encourage any law student who has an interest in working in Indigenous affairs or who simply wants to gain some legal work experience to apply for an Aurora internship. No, it won’t make for quite as amusing a holiday as re-watching Game of Thrones, but it will certainly be more memorable. The transferable skills that I picked up and the insight into Indigenous legal issues that I obtained were worth far more than just the extra line on my resume.

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