As well as providing invaluable practical legal training and a service to the community, the new Legal Advice Clinic on campus at Flinders will also offer its student volunteer staff a wider view of career possibilities.
Officially launched in Flinders Law School on August 13, the fortnightly clinic sessions will initially be run on a fortnightly basis in the FlindersOne Student Hub, just off the Bedford Park campus’s central plaza.
Like the clinic already established in association with the Christies Beach Magistrates Court, the campus clinic will offer clients legal advice across a range of minor civil issues. Staffed by students, the clinics are supervised by four Law School staff who are qualified solicitors with a wide spectrum of experience.
Law lecturer Ms Tania Leiman said the service provided by clinics is one that may not be available elsewhere – even when prospects of success are not strong, students will research the underlying law and advise the client by letter.
“A community legal centre might not have the time necessary to do this, but for our students the emphasis is on the learning process,” Ms Leiman said.
“It’s also very good for the students to understand what it’s like to deal with people who are in distress, and to learn that the law doesn’t solve everybody’s problems – there are limits,” she said.
Dealing with real-life clients is also helps to teach resilience, said Ms Deborah Ankor, the Law School’s Director of Professional Programs.
“It allows students to recognise quite early in the course the sorts of stresses that they are going to be under emotionally when they go out into practice: it’s not just about pressure of work and the necessity of meeting budgets,” Ms Ankor said.
For each session, the students prepare and then debrief with their supervisors, and then return to dedicated space equipped with authentic legal practice management software in the Law School to research the issues and prepare letters of advice, which are counter-signed by a supervisor.
“Our professional reputation is at stake, so we have very high expectations of the students,” Ms Leiman said.
Follow-up seminars allow students to discuss the issues with staff and also with each other.
The experience of working in community law broadens horizons for graduates, Ms Ankor said.
“When students begin the law course, many have a perception that the only measure of success is to end up working for one of the major commercial firms,” she said.
“But I think that changes as a result of what our students see in these kinds of programs, and our other internships and placements. They start to realise that there is value in other forms of practice.”
The clinics have been supported by grants from the Southern Knowledge Transfer Partnership and sponsorship by legal software supplier LEAP.