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Aaron Magna, Legal counsel at the University of NSW

Aaron Magna, Legal counsel at the University of NSW

Aaron Magna believes he hit the jackpot when he landed the role of legal counsel for the Unive

rsity of New South Wales. For Magna, it's a job that has allowed him to combine his love of the law with his belief in the value of a high-performing higher education system.

"I love campus and I guess I have fond memories," he says. "I'm a very passionate believer in higher education being well resourced and well funded ... and that as many people as possible [should] have the opportunity to have access to higher education."

Magna inadvertently launched his legal career while working as an industrial officer for a trade union. He began studying law part-time at the University of Technology Sydney to help him in his trade union role, and he says he never planned on becoming a lawyer. But once he'd had a taste of the law he was hooked.

After graduating, he made the most of his career experience, taking up a role with plaintiff labour law firm Turner Freeman, where he worked for three years.

"Working at Turner Freeman was a very hard slog," he says. "The difficulty was that your clients were either trade unions that didn't have a lot of money, or individuals who had been terminated from their employment, and therefore in a very stressful situation. I loved the work and I loved the people [and] it was rewarding to an extent, but it was tough."

Also in the back of his mind was a desire to practise law more broadly, so in 2006 he packed up shop, did a brief stint as an in-house lawyer at Deloitte, then landed his current role at UNSW in 2007.

Magna says his position, which is based in UNSW's central legal office, is extremely varied. On a daily basis he'll be dabbling in areas as diverse as commercial contracting, procurement, freedom of information requests, privacy, administrative law, student appeals, copyright and IP.

While he relishes this variety, he admits the need to be nimble, and to be able to provide quick advice on diverse areas of law, presents a unique challenge compared with private-practice work. "I think it's hard to keep your technical skills finely tuned, whereas if you work in private practice you might give a bit of that [quick advice], but you'd always follow up with a really well considered, well written, well articulated letter of advice," he explains.

A highlight of the role for Magna is interacting with senior academics who are often involved in cutting-edge developments in their fields. "I now have a greater appreciation for some of the really mind-boggling research that some of our academics are engaged in," he explains.

"I just [try and] make their lives easier, and cut their way through some of the bureaucracy, and give pragmatic, practical advice, which means ... they can get on with doing what they do best," he says. "They're really brainy people and I don't want them to waste a moment doing legal stuff they shouldn't have to do. That's the way I try and approach my work."

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