Vol 11, Issue 2
Attending Melbourne Law School has been on my radar for as long as I have been out of high school. I, along with most people reading this, were fortunate enough to make the cut. But I am one of the lucky ones. My route to accomplishing my goals and ambitions in adulthood has been a very smooth one. This is not the case, though, for many young people.
When I was 19 I took a friend and lawyer’s advice and began volunteering at a community legal centre in Werribee called “WEstjustice”, which helps vulnerable, low socio-economic, refugee and disadvantaged members of the community with legal issues ranging from fines to family violence issues.
The experience was eye opening to say the least, and exposed me to a side of my local community that I had never witnessed before. People overwhelmed by their legal problems, needing serious help but unsure what they needed to access to get that help. This is the role of lawyers in the community sector, including one of my colleagues, Vincent Shin – to advise and help people most in need.
Vincent began working at WEstjustice in 2015. He had been hired under the nation’s first School Lawyer project, an initiative seeking to provide a school with an in-house lawyer to provide legal advice and representation to students and their parents on a broad range of legal issues.
The project was implemented at The Grange P-12 College to aid students and their families navigate any legal issues. A number of these issues relate to personal safety and family violence, a contentious and only recently enlightened social issue in popular discourse.
The program has been a resounding success in generating media coverage and illustrating the importance of equal access to justice for all Victorians, no matter what their age, circumstances or background. Perhaps equally as important, however, is the exposure it has given to the work of lawyers such as Vincent, who drew upon his personal experiences to undertake his School Lawyer role effectively.
Vincent himself had a turbulent upbringing, experiencing family violence and not feeling certain about where he was heading after VCE. After a number of years trying to decide what he wanted to pursue as a career, Vincent eventually went back to university to complete a law degree, and worked with disadvantaged youth in residential care homes whilst studying at university. This experience prompted him to decide to use his degree to give back to youth who had faced the same or similar disenfranchisement that he had experienced growing up.
Vincent, my colleagues and other lawyers like him involved in social justice advocacy are a shining example of how the community can use their profession to give back in a meaningful way. The reason I chose to write this piece is to highlight the positive impact that the law and a law degree can have on our society. It is not just about clerkships, big business, and earning a high enough salary to pay back the FEE-HELP loan so many of us will accumulate. It is about a fundamental right that we all should have to be able to seek legal services when we need them most.
Not everyone has the same advantages that we have been blessed with as MLS students. A law degree is a privilege that allows a graduate the chance to change the paths of those in need. It should never be taken for granted, as the services we can provide upon graduation can touch and benefit the lives of members of the community for years to come.
Nathan Grech is a first-year JD student
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