La Trobe Law School is Leading an Innovative Legal Training Initiative with Final Year Law and Social Work Students

La Trobe Law School has implemented a collaborative initiative with the Neighbourhood Justice Centre to support our leading students in their clinical studies as well as some of the most vulnerable citizens in the City of Yarra to access pro bono legal advice regarding preparation of Wills and Estates. This is the first specialised legal training service of its type and is now in its second clinical pilot. This semester our outreach service has been based at St Mary’s House of Welcome in Fitzroy. The Clinic is led by Randa Rafiq (Coordinator), Suzanne Bevacqua (Supervising Legal Practitioner), Joanne Ellis (Solicitor) and Susan Marshall (Neighbourhood Justice Centre).

We sat down with Tamima Islam, one of our dedicated clinical students embarking on this project and asked Tamima to share her thoughts on the program from Semester 1. This is what Tamima shared:

Why do you think a Wills & Wishes Clinic is an important part of the community? 

The Wills and Wishes Clinic makes a difference by giving disadvantaged members of the community the opportunity to finally have a voice when it comes to their final wishes and options. The clinic enables people to know their rights in relation to leaving wills and appointing power of attorneys. These are really important topics that no one likes to talk about, but everyone must address at some point in their life. For a lot of people, having access to these options through the Wills & Wishes Clinic probably felt like a luxury until now. By empowering some of the most dis-empowered people in our society, the work that the clinic does will hopefully be really beneficial to the community at large.

How have you found interacting with clients at the House of Welcome?  

Interacting with clients for the first time is always a little nerve-wracking. But it’s been great to talk with different people, hearing their stories and getting a better understanding of their backgrounds and needs. The House of Welcome is filled with a really positive atmosphere and everyone there is really friendly and welcoming!

Describe something challenging that you have faced during your placement? 

One of the most challenging things for me has been talking about mortality, death, and end of life arrangements in a way that is not negative. It’s such a dismal topic to even think about, let alone talk about with someone who may also be struggling to come to terms with it. But everything I have learned over the last few weeks has made me realise that mortality is not something we need to try and put a positive spin on, but rather, something we need to accept and be prepared for by utilising our rights to make our own end of life arrangements and medical choices. It is a really empowering process that provides people with peace of mind. If it is understood in this way then it’s no longer such a dismal topic to think or talk about.

Have you found drafting ‘real’ wills difficult?

I am yet to draft a ‘real’ will, but I have learned about how to do it and I watched some of my peers start the process of drafting a will. It doesn’t seem as difficult as I initially thought it would be. And we are supervised by legal practitioners the entire time, so we have a lot of guidance and support whenever we need it.

What has been your favourite part of the clinic? 

My favourite part of the clinic so far has been learning about the legal concepts of wills, power of attorneys and explaining these concepts to clients. I really enjoy it because I feel like I’ve helped them to feel more comfortable and make sense of the process of writing a will or appointing a power of attorney. Hopefully clients feel like is not as daunting or complicated as it seemed, once they begin to make choices and arrangements for themselves that they wouldn’t have done before.

Why did you decide to participate in the clinic?

I wanted to take part in the clinic because I wanted to do something during my studies to help people disadvantaged by homelessness. People who are homeless are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and more often than not, homelessness is not the only disadvantage they have to cope with. Unfortunately, these vulnerable members of society are commonly disregarded as second class citizens and that bothers me to my core. There are a lot of stereotypes about homeless people that never sat right with me. By taking part in this clinic, I want to help eliminate those stereotypes. I want to seize the opportunity to use my education and skills to help disadvantaged clients regain a sense of control and empowerment over a particular aspect in their life; a life in which choices and decisions sometimes become a luxury rather than a basic right.

La Trobe