Principal Legal Officer, Matt Corrigan, chats with Summer 2018 interns: Marcus Dahl from ANU, and Thea Casey and Nicola Bird from Monash University.
Matt Corrigan: Good Morning. My name is Matt Corrigan and I’m a Principal Legal Officer here at the Australian Law Reform Commission, and I am sitting down with three of our fantastic Summer 2018 interns—Marcus, Thea and Nicki. Welcome!
Interns: Thanks. Hi.
Matt: So where I thought we’d start this discussion about your internship here with the ALRC is, what made you apply in the first place? So Marcus maybe you could start by telling us a little but about what spurred you on to putting in that application to come along and work at the ALRC.
Marcus: Well I’d been surfing the web for summer opportunities for quite some time, trying to decide what I wanted to do in my penultimate year summer that wasn’t a clerkship at a law firm, and I stumbled across the Australian Law Reform Commission website, probably about 8 months before the applications opened, and thought ‘that’s really awesome’. I’ve always been interested in law reform and in the community legal sector and it seemed like a really cool opportunity. So I kept an eye on it, put the date in my calendar. Didn’t think I’d actually get it but, hey – sometimes you get lucky.
Matt: What about you Thea? Why did you apply for an internship with the Law Reform Commission?
Thea: As an Arts/Law student I’d come across the ALRC reports a lot in my research. I always thought that the ALRC seemed like a very reputable organisation that was committed to addressing social inequalities and how the law can be reformed to rectify those gaps. I looked at the inquiries they’d done in the past, and I felt like my values were aligned with them, so I thought – you know – give it a go. You never know your luck in a big city.
Matt: [laughs] And Nicky, what about you?
Nicki: I guess for a lot of the same reasons that Marcus and Thea have already said. I guess as a law student you often start your assignments by looking and seeing what the ALRC has said about things, and I was also just genuinely interested in learning about the law reform process and how it actually takes place.
Matt: Awesome. Well, you’ve been here for three weeks, working full time on different inquiries. We’ve got two inquiries ongoing at the moment: one on litigation funding and one on reforming family law. Maybe, Nicky, you could explain what you’ve actually been up to during your 3-week internship.
Nicki: Sure. I’ve been working on the Family Law Inquiry, which has been a really rewarding experience. I’ve done a bit of research on barriers to accessing the family law system for people who live in regional and remote Australia. I’ve also done a bit of work looking at legal costs, and also looking at core competencies across different jurisdictions for people working in the profession. It’s been really interesting and I’ve learnt a great deal.
Matt: Fantastic. And what about you, Thea? What have you been working on?
Thea: I’ve been working on the Litigation Funding Inquiry and first of all I looked at what was happening in the UK, what their scene is like and how they regulate litigation funding. And then I looked at the US and their different approach to class actions and litigation funding. It was interesting to compare the two different jurisdictions and their different litigation cultures. I’ve also been looking at material that the stakeholders have written, to try and gather up all that material so briefing notes can be written before meeting with those stakeholders. I also did a little bit on the family law inquiry about publication of family court proceedings, which was also really interesting.
Matt: What about publication of family law proceedings specifically did you look at?
Nicki: So I looked at s 121 of the Family Law Act, which prohibits the publication of family law proceedings if it identifies parties to the proceedings, so it’s basically a protection of privacy. And I looked at whether that protection goes too far, or whether it needs to be stricter to protect privacy – so looking at the balance between open justice and privacy.
Matt: That sounds really interesting. And what about you Marcus? What have you been working on for the last 3 weeks?
Marcus: I’ve been on litigation funding and more litigation funding, which I didn’t expect coming into this internship, because the litigation funding review only got announced in December, but I have really enjoyed it. It’s been very interesting. So I started out by doing a big look at the treatment of litigation funding in Australia and the potential and attempted regulatory frameworks and how they’ve worked in the past and how the industry could be better regulated going into the future. So looking at various obligations under ASIC, under APRA, under the Corporations Act, and through the courts, to try and get a better understanding of what’s going on in the sector and why litigation funding has kind of entered this niche area of law, where it’s not quite regulated in a way that’s fit for its purpose. That’s been very interesting.
Matt: Wow, it sounds like all three of you have been very busy over the last three weeks. My next question really turns to how did the internship compare to what you thought it would be, in terms of the type of work and the processes – Nicky?
Nicky: I guess I didn’t really come into the internship with any form of expectation as to the particular work we’d be doing from day to day. I really came into it wanting to really better understand the law reform process, and doing the super interesting work that I’ve been doing is just an added bonus. I really have appreciated being in the office with so many incredible people who’ve been willing to sit down and chat, and just kind of tell us a bit about themselves and how they got to where they ended up being – yeah, I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of it, and I’ve learnt a lot in the process as well.
Matt: And what sort of people have you been working with during your internship?
Nicky: So, legal officers. Sarah and Julie have been really wonderful. I know Sarah comes from a family law background, and I think Julie is more of a generalist – they’ve both been wonderful. And also Helen [the Commissioner] from Melbourne as well. So we’ve been having our meetings on a Monday morning with people from all over Australia calling in, which has been really good fun, and it’s just been really wonderful. I came into this without much of a background in family law. I hadn’t taken it at Uni or anything. I just did some reading before I got here. So the amount that I’ve learnt has been incredible. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Matt: Excellent. And Thea, what about you? What did you expect and how did it measure up?
Thea: I didn’t really have many expectations and I also didn’t realise at what stage of the inquiry we’d be at when we arrived. So I didn’t realise that, depending on when you arrive, you might be at the consultation phase, or the workshopping phase of the recommendations, or the research stage. So we’re here at the research stage – it’s been good. So, yeah, using a lot of research skills and honing them, which has been helpful. And as Nicky said, I didn’t realise I’d be so closely working alongside legal officers, which has been really good. Because not only do you hear their insights into the Inquiry, you also hear their insights into the industry in general and their career path and their suggestions and what their interests are, which has been really good exposure.
Nicky: The office has been very welcoming. It’s been really nice to be here.
Matt: For those listening at home, I haven’t paid them to make those beautiful comments. But Marcus, what about you? You came from quite an interesting internship in a remote part of Australia to come to the ALRC. How did this compare?
Marcus: Well, I finished up at Kununurra in Western Australia on a Friday and got a few flights and then started here on Monday morning, and it was quite different to that experience, working up in the big city, in the CBD. And I was working on a review that I didn’t even know about until I came to the law reform commission. So in that sense it was very different and a little bit unexpected. But the ability to see the inside of the law reform process and how it works, and the kinds of people working in the area, was exactly what I expected and has been really valuable for me having been really interested in law reform but never getting to see how it works. People told me coming into this to expect it to be very slow. And to an extent that’s true – the reviews take a long time and doing an internship you only might get to see part of that review and part of the progress. But the reviews take time because the issues are very complex and they are very interesting, and you can learn a lot and read about a wide variety of issues in a short internship because the issues that are given to the Australian Law Reform Commission are some of the hardest ones to tackle. So in that sense it’s been very rewarding.
Matt: Excellent. Well, one final question for the three of you, and that is, what advice would you give to other law students who are thinking about applying to undertake an internship at the ALRC. Is it a good fit for some people, not others? What do you think?
Nicky: I think that everyone could gain something from it. No matter where your interest lies you’ll find something interesting here, because the content is interesting, the people have got something to say. You won’t ever be bored because no matter what Inquiry you’re on, the issues are broad and they affect a lot of people around Australia in different ways. So, yeah, it’s just a really helpful experience. So if you’ve got three weeks to spare, or a day a week to spare, then, why not?
Thea: Yes. Definitely apply. It feels really worthwhile to be contributing, even in a small way, to something that is just really incredible to be a part of. Definitely throw your hat in the ring.
Marcus: People tell you as a law student that you shouldn’t give up on the idea of becoming a lawyer and doing practical law until you’ve actually tried it. But I think the same can be said for working in a policy area. It’s a fascinating experience and it’s completely different to the types of things you might do in your law degree, and the types of things you might get to do in practical legal work spaces. So if you get the opportunity to see law reform from the inside, then definitely have a go, because you might be surprised how much you like it.
Matt: Excellent. Well, thank you very much for your time everyone.