Podcast: Lucinda O’Dwyer and Catherine Farrell discuss their experiences as ALRC interns

Rosalind Croucher, President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, in conversation with two interns from the 2011 summer program, Lucinda O’Dwyer and Catherine Farrell, both JD students, one with the University of Melbourne, and the other at Monash University.

This podcast aims to provide insight into how the internships work at the Australian Law Reform Commission. What are the kinds of things interns do? What might students gain from an internship with us?


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Rosalind Croucher (RC): Hi it’s Ros Croucher here. I’m President of the Australian Law Reform Commission and this podcast is to provide a bit of insight into how the internships work at the Australian Law Reform Commission. Internships with us are a very popular aspect of our program and they’re strongly sought after, so the interns we have with us are absolutely marvellous candidates but something you might not pick up from the website is what it feels like to be an intern, what are the kinds of things that you’ll do, what do you think you might get out of the internships that you undertake with us. So with me this afternoon, to provide a bit of an insight into the real workings of being an intern at the ALRC, are two interns from our Summer 2011 program, Lucinda O’Dwyer and Catherine Farrell both of whom are JD students, one with the University of Melbourne and the other with Monash University and they’re going to answer some questions with me to help give you a real insight into life at the ALRC. So I’m going to begin by asking Lucy as to her reasons, why did you apply for an internship with the ALRC, Lucy?

Lucinda O’Dwyer (LO): My initial interest in the ALRC stems from a program that I was actually involved in at Monash University, it was an extra-curricular program called the Just Leadership Program and it had a focus on social justice and legal policy. Throughout the course of the program we had a variety of workshops on creating and evaluating legal policy and the culmination of the program was actually the production of the submission for the Australian Law Reform Commission on their Discovery inquiry and so the process of that program gave me a real insight into the workings of the ALRC and also a real interest in observing firsthand how the ALRC went about its inquiry process and its consultation process, like I guess I actually thought it was quite fantastic that the ALRC was so accommodating of a student, of students’ interests in its workings and certainly that the ALRC has been very supportive and enthusiastic of this particular program and really quite encouraging of the students submitting something to their inquiries, so certainly as a result of that I decided to apply.

RC: Sounds like fantastic motivation, Lucy. Maybe I can ask Catherine a question now—Catherine, what can interns expect of their time at the ALRC?

Catherine Farrell (FC): I think interns can expect to come into the ALRC and get a real taste of what it’s like to work in law reform. I think I’d say that we’ve probably performed the role that a junior legal officer might perform. We’ve been given research tasks, ranging from literature reviews to a legal memorandum, right through to researching … from researching quite specific law in a particular jurisdiction in Australia right through to summarising the broad classification regime in the UK, for example. And so, we’ve been given deadlines and we’ve been given great feedback from very helpful supervisors in a real professional environment and I really feel that interns can expect, as a result of that, to improve their legal research skills significantly. But I’d also say that interns can expect to feel like part of the team here which has been a really lovely part of my experience and which has probably exceeded my expectations. For example, we were able to sit in on a consultation that was happening over the phone with regard to a current inquiry which was a really interesting experience for us because it really illuminated the depth of research that the ALRC will go into even regarding a very small legal point, that they like to include the thing they are researching. So I think you can really expect to get a broad overview of what it would actually be like to work in law reform or indeed at the ALRC and it’s been a really fantastic experience.

RC: So you got a real sense of the whole of the nature of the work that we do and it wasn’t boring at all, so I’m very glad to hear that. But I think probably the question I’d really like to ask Lucy is what was the highlight of your time at the ALRC?

LO: Look, I think I’d have to reiterate some of Catherine’s statements and for me the absolute highlight has been the opportunity to work with such incredibly knowledgeable legal officers who really do come from very impressive backgrounds and yet who have been so willing to provide constant feedback and to provide insights into how we can perhaps improve our skills, so I guess the highlight for me has been the opportunity to strengthen my own legal research skills and to observe very professional and very committed and enthusiastic staff as they go about through their inquiry and certainly seeing a consultation with SafeWork Australia conducted, really emphasised to me the, the depth and the thoroughness of the ALRC’s research. Everything that the ALRC does is grounded in very rigorous and very systematic research and consultation, so it’s, I think it’s something for any law student to aspire to. I think having observed legal officers at work has certainly given me a better model for how I will approach my studies in the future because there are many things that I’ve seen in the way that they approach tasks, researching pre-consultations that I think I can really incorporate into my own studies and which will strengthen my studies and also make me a better, hopefully a better candidate in the world of work beyond my law studies and post graduation.

RC: Thanks Lucy, and I think as a final question for each of you, I’d like to ask you what you’ve ultimately taken away from the experience at the ALRC. So I’ll ask Catherine first and then I’ll ask Lucy for the final comment in our afternoon podcast, Catherine …

CF: I think I’ve taken a lot away from the experience. One thing would be probably a heightened interest in legal research and in government work and the legislative process from the beginning to the end and certainly the impact that law reform can have on such a process. Before I started at the ALRC I was studying family law and to a degree some of their work on family violence and I think that working here has really entrenched my appreciation of what a kind of … um … contribution can achieve … I think also I’ve taken away the opportunity to enquire beyond criticising the current law, that is something that we do in our classes at university. We’re often asked to evaluate or critique a piece of legislation or a judgement but I think that my time here has taught me to ask the next question which is, how could it be better, how could it be fixed, and I think that is a really fascinating question which is not always given time in a curriculum at university, so that’s probably … that way of thinking and that …  that need to ask the next step, I think that’ll be something I’ll carry with me and I’ll almost probably have that inquisitive process happening in my mind when I’m studying in the future.

RC: So Catherine, we’ve deeply implanted the law reform gene in you. So Lucy to finish with you then, the same question in terms of what you feel that you’ve ultimately taken away from the ALRC internship experience.

LO: The key thing that I’ve learnt during this internship is the importance of law reform. I find it tremendously reassuring to know that there is an independent body who prides itself on its rigour and its thoroughness and who is evaluating the effectiveness of Australian laws. Two particular foci that I worked quite deeply on during my time here was the Family Violence inquiry and the Discovery inquiry, and I think when you look at the Family Violence inquiry whose objective was to look at improving safety for women and children, you see that it has a really tangible impact on improving the lives of Australian citizens. The work that is conducted at the ALRC has a very real impact on the lives of everyday Australians and perhaps the wider public isn’t aware of that but I think it’s really comforting to know that there is a body who is seeking to constantly improve the Australian legal framework which benefits all Australian citizens. I guess the last thing that I will certainly be taking away, is that it’s given me a greater appreciation of the multi-faceted and complex nature of legislative reform but also it’s given me an insight into the competing tensions that underlie legislative frameworks. As a law student I think it is easy to only receive sort of a shallow understanding of the law, whereas when you work in a law reform body you begin to realise how complex the nature, the issues are and how many stakeholders are involved in those issues. So I think for a law student it’s a wonderful opportunity to understand a broader underpinning of the legislative framework and to realise just how difficult it can be for legislation to meet so many different competing social needs. But certainly I think that the work that the ALRC does is tremendously commendable and I think that the thoroughness of that work is really a credit to the ALRC.

RC: Lucinda O’Dwyer, Catherine Farrell, thank you very much for joining me in this conversation today about being an intern at the ALRC and I hope if any of you are inspired by the experiences of Lucy and Catherine to apply for an internship, you’ll see all of the information you need on the web and I look forward to seeing you sometime in our first or second semester interns or our Summer internship programs at the ALRC. Bye for now.