Dear Intern Diary,
It’s day two of my internship and I’ve somehow convinced myself that I have an acquired brain injury. No matter how many times I read the discussion paper nothing seems to be going in. I’ve come to the realisation that my legal research skills are almost non-existent and to make matters worse I’ve mistaken my supervisor’s name. I’ve always done pretty well at uni but I’ve just spent my lunch break locked in a toilet cubicle Googling obscure neurological diseases in an attempt to discover why I can’t understand anything.
Despite these initial jitters, my internship at the New South Wales Reform Commission was an invaluable experience that gave me some much-needed confidence in pursuing a legal career.
Obviously there are some fundamental differences between working for the commission and clerking at a commercial law firm. An internship at NSWLRC encourages you to look at the law from a wider perspective than would be expected in a commercial environment. An eight-week internship is a big commitment, however the longer time period really gave me the space and opportunity to develop my legal research and writing skills.
The Commission will typically be working on several references at any one time. I worked on the Criminal Appeal reference while other interns worked on early guilty pleas, parole and dispute resolution. Though an interest in policy is clearly important, I wouldn’t worry too much about where your specific interest lies. I was not uninterested in the criminal appeal process when I began and by the end of my first week I was becoming deeply absorbed in the policy issues underpinning the topic, not to mention the infinite and sometimes hilarious possibilities that might render a trial unfair (Eg. the sleeping judge case).
Irrespective of what reference you are working on, it’s the opportunity to improve your legal skills that is the real benefit. If you find using Noteup a piece of cake, checking legislative history a breeze and locating an obscure second reading speech a walk in the park, then congratulations, you are already well on your way to becoming a good lawyer.
If like me however, you knew of these skills but had very little practice actually using them, then an internship at NSWLRC is an invaluable experience. If I didn’t get something the first time or felt my approach to research had hit a dead end, everyone was more than happy to share their wealth of skills and experience with me no matter how many questions I had (I had a lot!).
Malcolm Gladwell claims that the key to success in any field is simply a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours (imaginatively it’s called the 10,000 hour rule). Thankfully my supervisor didn’t ask me to research case law for 10,000 hours, however I was afforded the opportunity to really cement the skills I was learning on the job.
Oh, and the highlight?
Dear Intern Diary,
It’s the office Christmas lunch. Due to a catering error I’m sitting at the end of the table sharing prosciutto and sipping champagne with several of the commissioners.
Somebody asks me my plans for new years and I admit that I don’t really have any firm plans because I’ve never really enjoyed New Years. Usually my misanthropy is met with awkward shuffling of feet or the brushing of lapels, but one of the Commissioners actually laughs and announces that he’s always felt the same way. I start to think that these guys are people like me. They eat cured ham from Italy and begin talking about High Court judges like they’re old friends. One of them makes a joke that I genuinely find funny. For a moment I get a glimpse of what being in the inner ring must feel like. I have arrived!!!