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Fledgling lawyer finds passion and purpose in advocating for Indigenous rights

17 April, 2020

Completing a McCusker Centre for Citizenship internship at the Aboriginal Legal Service Centre of Western Australia (ALSWA) confirmed how Milo Pena intends to put his law degree to use: serving vulnerable communities.

“My time at ALSWA made me realise how necessary this type of advocacy work is,” the 28-year-old, who completed his Juris Doctor at the University of WA in 2019, shared.

For his exceptional efforts during the internship, he was among five shortlisted in the Centre’s inaugural Outstanding Intern Award 2019.

Mr Pena's main internship project was to conduct research, review and write memos for the Civil Division solicitors to assist in the determination of client cases.

Most of these cases touched tort law, such as false imprisonment and trespass.

“It is well documented that Indigenous Australians are persistently over-represented in Australia’s prison system,” the former Shoalwater resident (who moved to Sydney this year) said.

“I like to think that the legal research I undertook played some part in the reduction of that persistent over-representation.

“I looked at the application of legal principles in WA and also in other jurisdictions. This kind of analytical work was instrumental in achieving the best possible outcome for the clients.”

ALSWA Civil Law and Human Rights Unit solicitor Eloise Langoulant, who supervised Mr Pena, said he made a clear effort to learn not only about the substantive work but also the culture of the organisation.

“Milo appeared to sincerely appreciate the importance of working in a collaborative way and was not afraid to ask questions which is always a positive attribute for junior soon-to be solicitors,” Ms Langoulant said.

“In an environment that seems to rear law students for the corporate world, he really demonstrated an understanding of what it is to work in a not-for-profit organisation with vulnerable people such as our clients.”

Although Mr Pena considered his research “a small contribution to the work of the solicitors’ in the office”, he said his assistance meant the solicitors could spend less time researching and more time helping new clients in meaningful ways, like representing them in court or going to conciliations.

“The most rewarding aspect was seeing justice accorded to individuals that had been affected by abuses of power and seeing the state be kept accountable,” he said.

“I am so honoured to have been able to intern at ALSWA.”