Over the last 7 years and in response to a demand from Aboriginaland Torres Strait Islander communities for expertadvice on legal issues, Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research (Research Unit), has established a first of a kind research-informed legal advice and support service (the Clinic).
The Clinic applies principles of strategic litigation to support self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and to provide a site for the development of culturally competent, justice-oriented and professionally skilled lawyers.
In the Clinic, UTS law students work under the supervision of Jumbunna researchers and external legal practitioners either to help prepare cases or to develop sophisticated, strategic campaigns in areas of Indigenous justice.
Since its inception Clinic staff have worked on over 130 matters including numerous high-profile matters (such as the Bowraville murders and multiple Death in Custody inquests), providing annually an average total of almost 2000 hours of support to communities.
Aurora Intern Project was established in 2006 as a result of a report into the professional development needs of lawyers at Native Title Representative Bodies. Over the years it has grown to encompass other projects in the broader area of Indigenous education and Indigenous affairs generally.
The Program places Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous legal students and graduates (including mature aged) in full-time unpaid 4 to 6 week internships, at over 140 organisations Australia-wide, all with an Indigenous focus.
Jumbunna Research has used Aurora Project in both the clinic and on Winda Film Festival. This years interns that worked in early January/February caught up with us on their last days to talk to the experience….
We caught up with Craig to talk about the clinic and its work. Attached is the podcast of him talking about the work we do.
TRANSCRIPT OF PODCAST WITH CRAIG LONGMANMy name is Craig Longman, I’m the head of legal strategies here at Jumbunna Research Unit, and I also run the clinic. It’s a clinic we run with students who come and work with us on cases with external lawyers and also community.The clinic arose organically, essentially. The best way to understand what we do in terms of the clinic is that, Jumbunna is itself, an advocacy outreach project, where the people here use their expertise to agitate for change. In the course of doing that, sometimes we get tasks, predominantly they’re in legal cases, where we need people who are savvy enough to reflect on their own histories and their biases, and then technically competent enough to be able to construct a really good legal argument.
We bring those people into a room, and we put them in the room for however long it takes. So, we tap into a number of different subjects, which is a fairly typical way of operating. We work with the law and justice subject, for instance, at the UTS law faculty. We also use Aurora interns, and volunteers, and it’s really word of mouth. We tend to fill the clinic from people who know our work and want to help, or students who know people who’ve come through the clinic.
The way that students work in the clinic depends a little bit on what’s going on in Jumbunna at the time. Where we have a coronial or a particularly large case, like Bowraville on, they will work in the same way as they would work in a legal practice really, directed by the researcher to do whatever tasks need doing. I think one of the things that differentiates us is that, because we work in this space where we’re looking for creative, novel, disruptive legal arguments, when a student comes up with an idea here, it’s not dismissed as being inappropriate or as not necessarily working. Often, it’s the more curious ideas that provide us with avenues to agitate for change in terrain where there’s actually no resistance, because no one’s ever considered that this would be somewhere that indigenous nations would seek to exercise self-determination.
So that’s how the students come in. In terms of working, what we tend to do is work with external legal practitioners, or as I said, it depends on what’s happening, we might be working directly with the community. So, for instance, recently, we had a student do some research for us around cultural heritage laws. The first part of that task was summarizing those laws. Fairly traditional approach. And then we told them to go away and see if they could break the law, in the sense of, find holes in it where a community could exercise self-determination.
Again, what we’re trying to teach the students is not, what rights does the law give to a client or a community necessarily, that might be part of the equation, but treat the law like it’s a terrain. And then in the same way as a general tries to make use of features of a landscape, we look at the landscape of the law and say, “How can we use this to advance self-determination?” It encourages a really different way to think about how you go about law and how you go about change.
So, the students will traditionally work with the researchers here, floating ideas, doing research, getting feedback. We give them fairly traditional legal training in terms of the way they write, the way they think, the way they research, whether they’re being persuasive. Also, we try and engender in them an appreciation of good judgment. Often, when someone says, “That argument doesn’t feel right to me,” what they’re really trying to do say is, “That doesn’t have a narrative integrity to me. This doesn’t sound like something that someone would do.”
So we try and train them around that kind of thing too, and to understand that, again, your job is to be persuasive. Then, they might work with community members directly, depending on the work that they’re doing. It might be child protection work. They’re more likely to work with a community member directly to help them navigate that terrain.
Death and custody, they’re more likely to work directly with the researchers and the lawyers. In something like Bowraville, it’s a little bit of everything. They go where they’re needed.
Definitely one of the things I learned when I came to Jumbunna. You come through a law school or degree and you’re taught that the law is actually the repository, not only of your rights, but of your remedies. THat’s really comfortable language that we come up with. But the reality of it is that, actually, the law is the smallest part of these greater ideas of justice, which really go to how we treat each other as human beings.
The law is a tool kit, and that’s all it is. And because it’s a tool kit with a long history, and with plenty of vested interest in it, for every solicitor out there that sees their moral obligation being larger than their ethical obligations, there’s a solicitor out there who just wants to do it nine to five and actually is disinterested in those larger questions of justice, but they still get the tool kit. They can do a lot of damage with that tool kit.
So, I think that’s one of the things about the students that come to us in the first place, is often, they’re coming to us towards the end of their career, or of their degree, of they’re coming to us in their third year, and they’re already starting to feel it’s a bit rickety. They’re already being pushed away from those grander ideas of justice and what you can do as a human being into what’s your subject matter? Who are you going to work for? What’s the professional life you want? And they feel strange about that. They feel like something is being robbed from them, and something is being robbed from them, right? It’s that history of who you are and what you can do as an agent of change or a lawyer in the world.
It’s interesting. We still talk, in the legal fraternity, about justice as though it’s this generic, powerful concept that is somehow embedded in the system itself. But, in fact, every instance of justice I’ve ever seen is just one person choosing to roll up their sleeves and give what is almost always an imperfect, hard try at improving some person’s life or some person’s circumstance.
That’s a noble pursuit, and I think we’ve forgotten that in the way we teach law. A lot of students, they want that noble pursuit, more than they want to save someone or more than they want to be the person in the room. They just want to be part of something they believe in, and they want to have a career out of it at the same time. IT seems that there is a real gap in opportunities for students to be that , to be true to who u are or become a better version of who you are and a very good lawyer.
What we strive to do, and this is what we teach our students as well … We’re not here to teach them how to run a bail application. What we teach them to do is to step back from their narrow perspective on what a given situation is, right? So, this is not necessarily about a legal problem. This is about an impact that we’re after. This is about a change. This is about empowerment. By all means, once you work out where you want to go, look to legal resolutions if they’re there. But they may not be the most effective resolution. The most effective technique might be a documentary, it might be a podcast, it might be articles, it might be these things in different areas of the environment, whilst just simultaneously giving a legal argument in court.
So, understanding that, if you want to do justice and you want to do the concept of justice justice, if I can put a lot of work on that word, then you have to be effective enough, and you have to be skilled enough, and you have to be mature enough to realize that you’ve got to reach out to whatever tools are available to you. You’ve got to find what it is within you that drives this question and drives this particular case or this particular project, and then you’ve got to look to your audience, and understand that your first job is not to be right. Your first job is to be persuasive, and how do you persuade that human being, or that group of human beings, to see what you see, and to see what the community sees, and to see … Quite often, it’s about trying to make those people unsee what they’ve been taught. If you can do that, if you can learn that skill set, then now you have the capacity to make change in the world.
So, that’s very much at the heart of what we do here when we go into a particular case or a particular project. The first question we often ask ourselves is, in the entire environment of this project, whether it’s media, legal, political, financial, cultural knowledge work, whether it’s education or teaching or research, where’s the area we can have the biggest impact? But also, where’s the area that we’re uniquely qualified to have the impact?
There’s a second element to this to, which is that there is real power in … If you’re in a terrain where you want to disrupt or improve something as amorphous and oppressing as the legal system, or a media environment for instance, there’s real power to resisting characterization, to finding where the gaps are, where you can bring a bunch of energy and focus, and a mindset that says, “We refuse to accept the status quo here. We actually believe that humans are better than what they’re doing in this particular instance, and let’s show you how it could look.”
Often, it’s not just a resourcing issue. Often, there’s ethical obligations on, for instance, journalists or solicitors or barristers, where they’re instructed by their 0client where they can’t then turn around and try and make it about an improved justice system. So, it might be that, in a particular case, that’s exactly the job that we can do. We can tell a story about how the system has let the client down, without running the risk that the coroner or the judge or the police officer, is going to hold it against the client.
I think, for me, recently, we’ve hit this curious equilibrium between getting the right kind of student in, teaching them enough to be reflective, and agile, and effective, but also creating a culture where their ego takes a back seat. So, the end result is the story that floats out of the work.
I think we’re still working out exactly how to phrase what’s so profound about that experience, but the impact follows. This is something we’ve noticed. I think, arguably, the first time in my life, I would say, 98 percent of the work that I do, I think, has a direct impact on justice in Australia.
I think, often, the work itself and the tragedy of the work and the difficulty of the work is the fertilizer. It should make you angry. I think the great tragedy is if you can do work like this and feel nothing. I think that’s a far greater tragedy. We also have some really practical techniques around it. So, one of the things that we’re really clear about in the clinic is that you’re not ashamed of emotion. If you’re upset by a case, be upset. And if it’s too much, you take a break. If you want to do some different work, you do some different work. We’ve got counselors at the university who can help students through this.
But look, I also think it’s got to be said … We hear this a lot, what about students who work on these difficult cases? These students want to work in this world, that’s the first thing I would say, and this is what the world looks like. I also think that people underestimate students. The students that we’ve had working with us, we’ve had a few become part of the profession now, and we’ve got a few more that are on the path and will get admitted, and I’m honored to have worked with every one of them, and they’re better lawyers because they don’t turn away from these things. They recognize, this is the world in which I live, and what am I going to do about it?