Learning what it means to be a lawyer while helping those in need

29 May 2014

Learning how to apply theory to real life situations is one of the important skills that students in the Youth Law Clinical Program, run by the ANU College of Law, are learning while working at the ACT Youth Law Centre (YLC).

Third and fourth year law students help run a free and confidential appointment and drop- in service for young people between the ages of 12 and 25 years.

"We see people with problems ranging from debt to assault," says Lucas McCallum, Assistant Coordinator at the Centre and third year law student at the ANU.

"Students get exposure to legal issues of people who don't know what their rights are, or are in a bad situation and have nowhere else to go. Dealing with social justice issues makes the students feel really useful."

Students are supervised by Colleen Duffy, the centre's coordinating solicitor.

"Students conduct a pre-interview with the client to find out what the legal issues are. They then discuss those issues with me, and we go back to the client to give advice," Colleen says.

Students see about six clients per day.

"They are of great benefit to the YLC and they gain wonderful practical experience - it is a mutually beneficial relationship," she says.

ANU College of Law Program Coordinator, Tony Foley, says the program is popular with students because they get to experience legal practice in the real world.

"It makes students think about what they do and makes them consider if a legal solution is really effective," he says.

Legal Aid ACT CEO John Boersig says the program is a win-win for Legal Aid, which supports the centre, and the students.

"Students get professional experience from in-house lawyers and Legal Aid benefits from the enthusiasm and dedication of students, as well as pro bono work of private lawyers who support the students," he says.

"Students get great exposure from the variety of work they do. For example, they learn how to control an interview and how to draw information from clients. All this will benefit them in the competitive work environment."

John, who set up the University of Newcastle Legal Centre, is keen to expand the program.

"We have bright young people who are working to find the best legal solutions for the justice and ethical issues they have to deal with and working in this environment establishes a culture of pro bono work they will carry with them into the future," he says.

The Youth Law Centre is located on Childers Street, Civic and is open from 9am-5pm, Mon-Friday.