By Sumaiya Khalique 3L
This past summer I interned at Sydney’s Shopfront Youth Legal Centre, which provides free legal services to homeless and disadvantaged youth charged with criminal offenses, and pursues victims’ compensation claims for domestic violence and sexual abuse. Shopfront works with other organizations, such as the Salvation Army, Legal Aid and Mission Australia, to prevent recidivism through a holistic approach. I had also been in Sydney the previous summer, working for a criminal defense barrister through the Hofstra Global Legal Practice Externship Program. The sense of community within the criminal law field, the eloquence of the solicitors, barristers and judges, and the integration of old English protocol — with its demand for precision and passionate advocacy — greatly appealed to me. Interning in Sydney a second time was no less of an exciting adventure in becoming familiar with the Australian legal system, exploring issues of homelessness, avoiding awkward situations in and out of court due to cultural differences, and immersing myself in some great examples of advocacy and judicial eloquence. Most importantly, I had a phenomenal supervisor, Jane Sanders, the principal solicitor at Shopfront and a specialist in criminal and children’s law who has been nationally recognized for her passionate lobbying for law reform on issues that affect youth.
One of my most memorable moments was when I first went to court with Ms. Sanders. She was representing a young man who had schizophrenia. When the magistrate was delivering her judgment and it seemed like it would not go in the young man’s favor, Ms. Sanders turned around to look at him and I caught the look on her face. It was like she was in pain — like whatever the young man was feeling, she was feeling. I envied her emotion, not because she was in pain, but because it was so obvious how passionately she cared about this young man and how important it was to her that she not fail him. When Ms. Sanders turned back around, she was once again the confident, collected and well-prepared solicitor. That moment was very powerful for me because I almost wanted to cry myself when I thought the magistrate was going to convict the young man. Ms. Sanders’ passion, compassion and professionalism inspired me to tap into my compassion and seek a similar balance in being a strong advocate for my client. Interning at Shopfront also provided me the opportunity to help my supervisor draft policy submissions. I conducted research on the Homelessness Bill that the Australian government is in the process of passing and for which it had invited people to make recommendations. It was my first time engaging in policy, and it was exciting to be able to respond to the government and know that the government might actually take into account our suggestions.
Working on policy projects gave me greater familiarity with the Australian legal system. The differences between the Australian and American legal systems are varied and many, but there are also similarities in the criminal law because of common law. Understanding the subtle and obvious differences and similarities in law was in many ways a similar journey to understanding the differences and similarities between Australian and American culture, including Australian English versus American English.
Interning at the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre was a learning experience beyond anything I expected. I learned to adapt quickly, think on my feet and embrace a different culture and legal system. I also discovered the power of compassion and the importance of finding a balance among passion, compassion and professionalism. Most importantly, it cemented my love of criminal law. The experiences I had and the mentoring I received have given me the courage to dream big, commit to making myself the best advocate I can be, and take charge of my career.