A Legal Internship at the Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner: Sverre Gunnersen

The Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) runs a number of subjects that count as electives towards the JD, one of which is the Legal Internship. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I highly recommend it to any JD student.

The Legal Internship most commonly runs for 20 consecutive work days over the summer break (with different organisations running different internship periods), so be aware of any potential conflicts (e.g. with work, clerkships etc). Note that the Public Interest Law Clinic is a different subject which runs throughout the normal semester, though some of the external organisations are the same and also organised by the Public Interest Law Initiative. This means across your JD you can do at least two placements.

My interests in anti-corruption led me to apply for the Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner and the Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre’s Project. My CV and cover letter afforded me an interview with the VLSB+C. While a little nerve wracking, the interview went smoothly, and I was fortunate enough to be offered an internship position.

During orientation I met my follow interns, three from MLS and one from Victoria University. We were each assigned different divisions, to which I was first assigned to the Fidelity Fund and met my wonderful team. The Fidelity Fund provides that if an associate of a legal practice engages in fraud or dishonesty with trust money or property, the fund can in many circumstances compensate the victim. As a consequence, the Fidelity Fund deals with some of the more interesting cases involving genuine criminal activity.

Initially my duties were limited to reading the current matters, taking notes in various meetings, and getting up to speed. It wasn’t long before I was given more active duties: assisting with interviews, providing my supervisor with legal analysis, and writing communications that (once approved) would be sent to claimants advising them of the status of their claim.

While confidentiality prevents me from discussing the actual matters I dealt with, an example of the type of case the Fidelity Fund deals with is the matter of Legal Services Board v Gillespie-Jones (2013) 249 CLR 493, one of the only fidelity fund cases to be heard by the High Court. Those who have or are doing the Trusts subject may recall that Gillespie-Jones left the question of whether a Quistclose Trust is accepted in Australia unanswered, but what is interesting here are the facts of the case.

An accused engaged the services of a solicitor, who in turn briefed a barrister. While the client was paying the solicitor to pay his barrister, in fact ‘most of the monies supplied were misappropriated by the solicitor’ (at [1]). This raised the question whether the barrister (rather than the client) was entitled to make a claim against the fund. In a case such as this, the investigators at the Fidelity Fund would be using their powers of compulsion to obtain bank statements and other documentation, interviewing those involved, making an assessment as to whether the associate did in fact engage in fraud or dishonesty, and determining what provisions of the Fidelity Fund are enlivened. Assuming fraud or dishonesty is found, the Fidelity Fund will refer the matter to the necessary law enforcement agencies for prosecution as a criminal matter. As you can see, working on Fidelity Fund matters is extremely interesting.

The internship is run by PILI with the goal of building competence. The idea being that while one starts with unconscious incompetence, through experience and reflection this can develop into conscious incompetence, conscience competence, and perhaps unconscious competence. The reflective writing journal is an opportunity to engage with this process, and the legal portfolio is an opportunity to demonstrate how competence was developed.

But perhaps more importantly, the Legal Internship is an opportunity to build legal experience in a way that is engaging and interesting, in a friendly environment, surrounded by amazing people. What more could you possibly want from a JD subject?

By Sverre Gunnersen

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