Since the dawn of the profession, lawyers have used their vocation and their voice to advance the cause of the marginalised and to inch society towards a more just existence. They have championed justice in community legal centres, non-governmental orginisation, the United Nations and International Criminal Tribunals. They have lobbied government, spearheaded policy, stopped impunity, uncovered injustice and challenged discrimination.
But regrettably, there is still work to be done. The world is in need of a new generation of giants to advocate and defend and advance human rights.
Enter Notre Dame Law students!
During your time at Notre Dame, we hope that your passion for justice is fanned into flame and that as alumni you use your skills and qualifications to right the wrongs of the world.
1. In what year did you graduate from Notre Dame Law?
I graduated in 2011
2. Where did you do your Practical Legal Training?
I did my PLT with the Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (which is a part of Redfern Legal Centre)
3. Where are you currently working? And what does that entail?
I currently have 2 jobs. I work at Baptist World Aid Australia in their advocacy department where I research the efforts of the fashion industry to protect the rights of workers who make their products. I also work at Redfern Legal Centre, a community legal centre which provides people with free legal advice.
4. Why have you chosen to pursue a legal career with a focus on social justice?
I chose to pursue a legal career with a focus on social justice because I believe the law is a useful tool to make the world a more just place.
5. What has been your most rewarding professional experience? (A ‘this is why I do what I do!’ moment?)
My most rewarding professional experience actually occurred this week. We launched our report into the fashion industry, and within a few hours of it hitting the media, a few major apparel companies which we had tried for months to communicate with, got in contact with us. I’m now working with them to assess the ethical sourcing practices they have in place, and to see how they can improve. It was really encouraging to see the response we can get when companies realize that consumers and the media are paying attention and actually care about the conditions of workers on the other side of the world.
6. What advice would you give a law student hoping to pursue a similar career?
The best thing you can do to pursue a career in social justice, is volunteer for organisations and projects that interest you while you’re at university. I learned more from volunteering about the type of career I want to pursue than I ever did in a classroom. The experience I gained from volunteering programs led to employment on a few occasions.
7. In what ways has your experience of Notre Dame benefited you in your chosen legal path?
In my final year at Notre Dame, I wrote a thesis for my law degree, which allowed me to focus on a specific issue that I was passionate about. That experience contributed to me landing my current role.
1. What year did you graduate from Notre Dame Law?
I completed the three-year gradate entry degree, starting in second semester 2009 and finishing at the end of the first semester 2012.
2. Why did you choose to do your Practical Legal Training at Redfern Legal?
I first decided to complete all the GDLP coursework face to face at the College of Law; this gave me access to all the lecturers and other staff daily from 9-5, if you choose this option they also take you to the Downing Centre where you present your litigation case in front of a real judge in a real court room. With the coursework out of the way I only had to worry about the PLT – Redfern Legal Centre offered me a position to be directly supervised by the Principle Solicitor, the exposure I received was beyond just day to day legal work, I attended management meetings, attended conferences with other legal centres, attended CLE’s (community Legal Education) and wrote articles for our newsletters and assisted in case studies to be used in the CLE’s, as well as undertaking casework in a variety of areas. It is this casework that really provided the most satisfaction. Quite often our clients are those who are marginalised economically and socially. They either have experienced some sort of injustice or they simply get themselves in legal trouble because they do not understand their rights etc. Seeing a client first walk in crying about a situation they feel is a very heavy burden; and a little while latter they see how we have assisted them, they feel empowered and more importantly they feel like someone actually cares.
3. What have been the biggest lessons you have learnt from your time at Redfern Legal Centre?
Biggest lesson is ‘people’. What I mean by that is that you are exposed to people from every walk of life in a legal centre, whether it’s the lawyers that work there, or the lawyers that come from the big firms to do pro-bono work, other PLTs and of course the clients who represent almost every walk of life. Having the ability and developing the skills to communicate with this mix of people is priceless.
4. What have been your most rewarding experiences or observations?
The rewards are two-fold. Firstly from a personal point of view – developing into a well-rounded lawyer is the great advantage of working in a community legal centre. Secondly the reward of using one’s legal skills to actually help the people who need the most help is the main reward. Despite the arguments against it, I’m in favour of compulsory pro-bono work by lawyers – there are simply too many people out there in our own communities who need legal assistance but cannot afford legal representation and for a variety of reasons may not have access to legal aid. Community legal centres are the last hope for people in this situation.
5. What advice would you give a law student wanting to make a contribution to social justice during their time at university?
Best advice for a law student is to volunteer at a legal centre, whether half a day a week or more – the exposure you receive to the law is priceless. From your very first week you could be talking to clients trying to understand their issues and making decisions on whether the legal centre can assist or whether you should refer them to another organisation. You will also start to put files together for the lawyers and maybe even assist with drafting etc. By doing so you free up the actual lawyers that work or volunteer in community legal centres to get on with the main task of assisting their vulnerable clients. This after all is why community legal centres exist. Pick a legal centre and visit, have a chat to the student volunteers about what they do and what satisfaction they receive from volunteering in this sort of environment. And if you then decide to do your PLT in this environment – you will be way ahead of other candidates – PLT positions are very competitive in legal centres.
Head of Maurice Blackburn’s Social Justice Practice
1. Where did you go to Law School?
University of Melbourne
2. When did your interest in social justice issues begin?
I’ve always had an abiding interest in the disenfranchised. That really found full expression in student activism, at the time of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the escalation of punitive policies towards refugees.
3. What involvement with social justice issues, organizations or employment did you have during Law School and as a graduate?
I was heavily involved in activism around those two key campaigns: against the war and in support of refugees. I was elected as the Education Officer at Melbourne University Student Union also. Since graduating, I’ve continued to be involved in various campaigns in my spare time, as much as I have been able to. It is handy that it is also useful work for my day job.
4. What were the most challenging and rewarding moments when you volunteered at the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana?
We were told to remember that every day that someone is not executed is a victory. Life without parole is usually the best outcome any one client can wish for. That’s a pretty disappointing future for anyone, so coming to terms with those very limited prospects is very difficult for me as a lawyer (the clients always managed it better). The clients and colleagues were all lovely.
5. What lead you to becoming involved with the International Labour Organisation?
I’ve always been committed to the labour movement – I think it’s responsible for lots of rights we take for granted. So I’ve always been interested in how work is organised and regulated, from that perspective. The ILO is a big bureaucracy but it also has the capacity to be a trendsetter – both in terms of identifying issues and promoting change. So it’s an obvious place to get some high quality experience.
6. Out of all the Public Interest Litigation that you have been involved in at Maurice Blackburn, which do you consider to be the most significant social justice case?
I’ve absolutely loved working on all my matters. I suppose for me the big highlight was acting for a refugee with an adverse security assessment from ASIO. She went into her first refugee camp as a widow when her son had just had his second birthday. She and her son were eventually released days after his sixth birthday. She was the first refugee in this category to be released since the review process was set up. It’s terrific when you realise you’ve helped someone get a chance at a decent life, though I know the road ahead for her will be hard.
7. What advice would you give law students wanting to pursue a legal career in the social justice and human rights field?
Stick at it! Don’t do things you don’t want to do because you think you should (I’m thinking of working for a big corporate because that’s what everyone else is aiming for). You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is and work hard. There are plenty of jobs out there in all different capacities in the social justice field, so work out what you like and can do well and keep doing it.