Each year, the Justice and the Law Society organises a Magistrates Work Experience Program in conjunction with the Magistrates Court of Queensland and UQ Pro Bono Centre. Participating law students are paired with a Magistrate and attend their Court one day per week for six weeks. This year, JATL received an unprecedented number of applications from an exceptionally well-qualified group of students. BA/LLB candidate Madeleine Ryan was one of the successful applicants, and these are her reflections on her experiences during the Program.
Over the past two and a half years at law school I have participated in a number of work experience and volunteer programs in various legal settings including barristers’ chambers, a top tier law firm and a not-for-profit legal aid organisation. Of all my experiences, the one I would most highly recommend to my fellow law students is the Justice and the Law Magistrates Work Experience Program. Despite attending each week at the same location, every day was an opportunity to learn something new and to meet new people. I observed an array of matters including criminal hearings, civil applications, lengthy sentencing and traffic hearings. I met magistrates, legal officers, public and police prosecutors, solicitors and barristers, all of whom were very willing to impart some of their wisdom, both personal and professional, to a budding lawyer.
Above all, however, it was thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening to meet and learn from Magistrate Christine Roney. She was welcoming, engaging and eager to teach as well as to learn my opinion on relevant issues. Over a morning coffee she gave me valuable career advice and tips for distinguishing myself in a competitive job market. Magistrate Roney shed light on the daily routine of a magistrate, explained how one may come to hold the position and divulged what she considered to be some of the challenges facing all magistrates in the courtroom. Especially in the area of criminal law, she expressed feelings of frustration at there being insufficient “strings to the magisterial bow” to address the underlying issues presented by cases involving, for example, people battling especially drug addictions or mental illness. As a student of criminology, I was particularly interested to see just how prevalent such issues are in the criminal justice system, and how they are dealt with in practice.
I have taken a lot away from my participation in the Magistrates Work Experience Program – new knowledge, new interests, new contacts and new ideas for my future career path. The Program has provided me with an insight into multiple facets of our legal system, not simply the role of the magistrate, and has given vital context to my future legal studies. Most importantly, I have acquired the most valuable resource available to any student - a supportive and experienced mentor.