Prue McDonald

Aboriginal Legal Services
Winter 2017

Three words encapsulate my time at the Aboriginal Legal Service: rewarding, fast-paced and amazing. I applied for the Aurora Internship Program with an open mind and a keen sense of adventure in trying something new. I have always wanted to get involved with my local Aboriginal Legal Service and when I was offered a five-week placement at the Newcastle office I jumped on it.  Throughout my five weeks my understanding of the criminal justice system and the multiplicity of issues Indigenous Australians face expanded enormously. The ALS is an incredibly rewarding organisation to volunteer for and the work they are doing is imperative to ensuring that Indigenous Australians have access to the same levels of justice as non-indigenous people do. In order to understand just how vital the ALS is, this reflection will take you through what a day in the life of a Vollie (term for volunteer in the office) is.   

At 9am it is time for the day to begin! The first thing that the Vollies do is check the volunteers email as well as the task sheet. The task sheet is where the solicitors leave tasks for the volunteers to do during the day. This could involve a great number of things. A number of the tasks I did while I was at the ALS involved preparing briefs to send to Barristers, organizing and finding files, writing letters to clients, liaising with Police, the DPP and other community organisations on behalf of our clients and the solicitors, researching and finding information, organizing appointments and meetings and this is a just a small handful of what you could be doing in the office that day. I also spent time helping the administrative staff with their tasks such as photocopying, faxing and writing letters, there are a lot of clients to contact! Another role of the Vollie is to help answer phones, try to answer people’s questions and pass messages along to the solicitors when necessary.  The ALS office is very social and everyone is incredibly welcoming and friendly, there was always time to make a cup of tea for yourself and a colleague, as well as a biscuit from the biscuit jar! One of the things I loved about being at the ALS is that no day was the same.  Sometimes after getting to the office you would also get to go to Court with a solicitor for the day! I visited a number of courts and my two favourites were the Broadmeadow Children’s Court and the Newcastle Local Court. At court the job of the Vollie was to help manage the solicitor’s case load and be available to help out when necessary. I was lucky enough to gain a lot of court experience by watching how the solicitors operate in court, I was even lucky enough to go to the Newcastle District Court on a few occasions. At 5pm we would all leave the office and be back to do it all again the next day!

Throughout my placement at the ALS I learnt so much. It reinforced to me how passionate I am in working in public justice and would love to end up working at the ALS one day, especially out in an area that is more remote! Throughout my time at the ALS I met so many inspiring and interesting people, lawyer’s, clients and Vollies alike! The solicitors I worked with at the ALS are hardworking and dedicated people and when faced with a tremendous workload and difficult clients they did it all with humour and warmth. Working at the ALS made me feel like I was part of a team. From the clients I came across I was inspired by their resilience and even in the face of such troubling times they were still happy to have a joke and a conversation with you. I would recommend anyone thinking of applying for the Aurora Internship Program to go for it, you won’t regret it!!