20 April 2022

Student-led 'law clinic with a heart' launched at UC

| Claire Fenwicke
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The team at the University of Canberra's Citizen Centred Justice clinic

The team at the University of Canberra’s Citizen Centred Justice clinic. Photo: Tyler Cherry, University of Canberra.

Have you ever thought the issues you’re seeing a GP or psychologist about could be solved with legal help?

The newly launched Citizen Centred Justice Clinic at the University of Canberra (UC) is a student-led initiative that offers a holistic approach to people’s needs.

Irene Santos has been involved in social work and is one of five legal and justice students undertaking her internship at the clinic.

She described the centre as a “law clinic with a heart”.

“I’ve always believed in asking clients what other supports they need, not just assisting with their legal issues,” she said.

“Support is the best outcome, and if it turns out they don’t have a legal issue, we can connect them with other services.”

She said working at the centre was an overall positive experience and that she found it to be a “beautiful concept”.

“It’s allowing me to translate my legal knowledge in a way which means I can stay in the human services space,” Ms Santos said.

Fellow student Laura Dinh also works at the centre and said it provides her with valuable professional experience.

“It’s given me more understanding of the practical, day-to-day workings of a law firm,” she said.

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Students undertake interviews with clients, conduct legal research, draft letters and applications and refer clients to other pro bono clinics in Canberra that might be better suited for their needs.

“People typically talk with their GP or psychologist about their issues but may not realise a lawyer could help as well,” Adjacent Law and Health director Dr Allison Ballard said.

“It’s another avenue where a person can get advice about an issue and, potentially, representation.

“Most problems people have are interdisciplinary in nature and very complex and, at times, their legal issues are exacerbating their mental or physical wellbeing.”

Dr Ballard oversees the students running the clinic and has also been teaching at UC for a number of years.

While there are about 190 health-justice partnerships like this across Australia, Dr Ballard said this is the first program she knows of that is entirely student-led.

“It exposes our students to complex, real-life cases, which will hopefully increase their community and social justice ambitions going forward,” she said.

Clients are assisted with legal issues that range from immigration matters, family law, defamation, workplace bullying and discrimination.

“For example, you could live in rental accommodation that is mouldy and causing you ill-health,” Dr Ballard said.

“We can make representations to a landlord to get this addressed and hopefully remove the cause of your health issue.

“We also provide assistance or resolutions such as compensation or separation from a workplace if you’re experiencing bullying or have lost your job. This all factors into someone’s mental health and wellbeing.”

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A psychologist is also on-site to make sure the students feel supported.

“Some are still young and are being exposed to complex cases,” Dr Ballard said.

“Hopefully this will make them more resilient and improve them as a legal professional.”

Most clients are referred through the university’s Medical and Counselling Centre, however members of the broader community are also welcome.

The centre is currently open at the UC Medical and Counselling Centre every Wednesday from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm.

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