Creating responsible lawyers: the experience of La Trobe students at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre

By Joshua Furolo, Jelena Sarenac, Amanda Shackleton, Betty Elhouli, Mariella Tschur, Nathan Stubbings and Stella Cirrito

Over the course of semester one, a combination of Law and Social Work students from La Trobe University have been completing a work placement each Friday at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (‘NJC’) in Collingwood.

The NJC is a community justice centre and multi-jurisdictional court. Adhering to the principles of therapeutic justice, the NJC provides a wide array of legal and support services focused on solving the underlying causes of crime in the City of Yarra. Students from La Trobe have been assisting with the Wills and Wishes Clinic, which involves completing wills and powers of attorney for clients residing or working in the City of Yarra. This is the third iteration of the Wills and Wishes clinic, which has now assisted over 100 clients.

During the sixteen weeks of placement at the NJC, we met with new and ongoing clients of the Centre regarding their wills and powers of attorney.  We gained experience in interviewing clients, drafting letters, file management and preparing wills and powers of attorney.

Every second Friday we saw clients at St Mary’s House of Welcome, which allowed us an opportunity to work with complex clients, who often presented with a range of issues such as homelessness, mental health and substance abuse.

A Case Studey:  Mary’s story

An example of a client that our students have assisted is Mary. Mary is in her mid-50s and from a non-English speaking background. She has two adult children, one who has a disability and is therefore dependant on Mary.

Mary is a long-standing client who has had difficulties engaging with the will drafting process due to being a victim of family violence and economic abuse.

Through the NJC ‘Wills and Wishes clinic’ we were able to assist Mary with drafting and   executing a will that would make sure her daughter with special needs would be cared for after her death, which gave her a great sense of relief. In line with the holistic model of the NJC, students referred Mary to other services to assist with her safety, mental health and obtaining a divorce.

Contributing to community education

As part of our placement at the NJC we also had the opportunity to take part in a community education session at the Willowview Day Activity Centre. During this session we provided information to senior citizens attending a community group, educating them about wills and powers of attorney.

Having law and social work students working collaboratively has allowed for a different and refreshing perspective to client meetings. The clients attending the clinic are from a diverse range of backgrounds, and may have complex needs. The social work students are able to provide support to these clients, which include making referrals to other appropriate services. It is beneficial for social work students to engage in this clinic, as knowledge of the will drafting process may assist them with providing information to future clients.

The combination of law and social work students allowed for clients to be dealt with in a holistic manner, and has allowed the law students to practice the principles of responsible lawyering.

La Trobe Law students can complete a placement at the Wills and Wishes clinic through the subject LPP. Alternatively, check the law school noticeboard for placement opportunities or get in touch with Randa Rafiq via email.

Social work students interested in volunteering on the clinic should get in contact with Suzie O’Toole via email to discuss future placement opportunities.

This post was prepared by Joshua Furolo (final year Bachelor of Laws / Bachelor of Business (HRM) student), with assistance from fellow students: Jelena Sarenac, Amanda Shackleton, Betty Elhouli, Mariella Tschur, Nathan Stubbings and Stella Cirrito.

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