For the love of law

Towering piles of legal documents are enough to daunt most of us, but UQ student Katherine McElrea actually gets a kick out of the challenge . . .  

Katherine McElrea.

In the past, I have found legal research difficult and daunting at times, but I’ve come through that now and I find it a thrilling challenge.

My internship

An internship at Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) through the Aurora Project gave me the chance to exercise and improve my legal research skills in a relaxed but professional environment. It helped me overcome my apprehension.

When I was on a roll it almost felt exhilarating (if that’s possible) to have found the answer to a legal issue.

IBA is a government agency that works to achieve economic independence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They provide loans to eligible applicants to fund home ownership, business enterprise and investment endeavours.

I really enjoyed having Nathan (senior lawyer) as my supervisor. He gave me the freedom to work autonomously without too much interference. I was delegated tasks and could ask questions at any time, but I felt I could tackle issues independently as they arose.

Working with independence made me feel that I was trusted to complete the tasks as I saw fit. This sometimes meant I was thrown into the deep end slightly, but it was an excellent learning curve to have to ‘nut out’ issues myself as they arose. Again though – I could always ask questions. Nathan was very friendly and relaxed.

Paperwork, paperwork

All internships are different, but my primary tasks included legal research, drafting advices, sorting and searching through files for information. I also spent a lot of time reading and preparing legal documents such as codes of conduct, notices of demand, notices of breach, intellectual property policies, loan contracts, and employee contracts.

Some of the research tasks were related to specific legal issues and other tasks were broader, involving more general browsing of the web. I enjoyed learning about all kinds of topics. For instance, I learned more about employment law and privacy law – neither of which I’d previously studied. I also gained a greater understanding and appreciation for the role of in-house lawyers/counsel (a topic on which I was rather foggy beforehand).

Overall, I enjoyed being exposed to new areas of the law, improving my research skills, having the chance to read and prepare legal documents and “learn by osmosis” (in Nathan’s words), and know that I am taking part in something meaningful.

A great experience

Undertaking an internship at Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) through the Aurora Project was a fabulous way to gain professional experience. As part of the legal team I was able to apply my knowledge of the law in the context of a government office that operated in the fascinating and complex realm of Indigenous economic empowerment. 

I found that some tasks required a significant amount of background reading of correspondence and documents. I liked taking the time to go through these thoroughly, as it helped me to not only to execute my task more effectively but also to learn about how commercial scenarios can go pear-shaped. I learnt of the legal repercussions following inability to repay debt under the conditions stipulated in a loan contract. These scenarios may sound bleak but it was a good learning experience!

I also felt that I never had too few nor too many tasks at once. This also gave me licence to approach each task with rigour and I enjoyed being able to conquer them at my own pace.

The Aurora Project offers both summer and winter placements. You could be placed virtually anywhere Australia-wide! I thoroughly recommend it.

Last updated:
23 March 2016