Reflecting on the NSW Legal Aid Fellowship with Elizabeth Clark

 

For law graduates with a passion for social justice, the world of Practical Legal Training placements and graduate positions can seem daunting at best, as students try to find roles which both meet their interests and equip them with skills to pursue them into the future.

The Human Rights Fellowship at Legal Aid NSW is a program which meets those needs in a way which is challenging, inspiring and at all times hugely enjoyable. Run in conjunction with the Australian Human Rights Centre and UNSW Law, the six month program is designed as an entree into legal practice for graduates with a keen interest in human rights and public interest law, and manages to combine high level critical analysis with exposure to the day-to-day practical experiences of pro bono lawyers.

Over the past six months as the Fellow, I have been fortunate enough to take advantage of a wide range of experiences. The primary role of the Fellow is to assist and work alongside the Legal Aid Human Rights Committee. The Committee, a diverse group of independent barristers, academics and experts in human rights law, has responsibility for determining applications for aid which raise substantial issues of public interest and human rights in NSW. Throughout my time in the role, I analysed and provided advice to the Committee on matters addressing the ongoing implementation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the rights and responsibilities of protest groups, and the treatment of prisoners in correctional facilities.

Beyond this, I was also able to work alongside lawyers within the Human Rights Team. Sitting within the Civil Law Division, this team is responsible for matters addressing breaches of civil liberties and human rights in NSW, including police torts, discrimination actions and privacy matters. Being part of this team was a wonderfully enriching experience as I was able to observe and engage first hand in the protection of fundamental rights. In addition, the practical skills I developed through my role have proved instrumental in preparing and equipping me for an ongoing role as a solicitor. These included drafting pleadings for hearing in a complex consumer claim, assisting in the preparation of appeals and engaging in negotiations, along with the more fundamental skills of engaging with stakeholders, other parties, and, most importantly, clients in seeking to resolve their pressing concerns and achieve access to justice. 

Legal Aid NSW is a perfect entry point for any graduate keen to explore the world of pro bono work in NSW, and the Human Rights Fellowship has been, for me, the ideal opportunity to do this. It has meant learning from experienced colleagues what a passion for social justice can look like in practice, and being able to witness the transforming impact that pro bono representation and assistance can have for vulnerable members of our community.

 

The author, Elizabeth Clark, was the NSW Legal AId Fellow from Sep 2015- Feb 2016.

For more on the NSW Legal Aid Fellowship, click here.