Why should you be a social justice lawyer?

Recently, at La Trobe Open Day, La Trobe Law School welcomed the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s Legal Network Coordinator Melanie Book to speak to our students about what a day in the life of a social justice lawyer at the ASRC looks like.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre was started by Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM, who completed a law degree at La Trobe Law School. The centre provides services free of charge to people seeking asylum and works across a range of areas, including health, education, food security, employment, legal, empowerment and innovation.

The centre has around 80 staff members and 1,200 volunteers at the moment, with an office in Footscray and Dandenong. It is Australia’s largest provider of aid and services to people seeking asylum, and has been operating for 15 years.

A day in the life of a refugee lawyer

So what does the life of a refugee lawyer look like? At the ASRC, refugee lawyers provide assistance to clients across all stages of the refugee determination process. This includes:

  • Preparing protection visa applications
  • Visiting clients in detention and assessing legal need/providing advice
  • Representing clients at interviews and hearings
  • Briefing and supervising volunteers
  • Drafting legal submissions
  • Instructing pro bono counsel in court matters
  • Writing submissions to parliamentary committees on proposed legislative changes
  • Conducting community legal education
  • Working with colleagues and other service providers to make sure your client is well supported

Making a difference for society

As Melanie outlined for the attendees, it is a privilege to work for an organisation whose values she can identify with, as well as colleagues and volunteers who share a passion about social justice. Social justice work also gives you a sense of positive impact, as you help those who would otherwise not have access to legal services. Another rewarding aspect highlighted by Melanie was the fast moving and dynamic nature of the work, with every case being different, and presenting the opportunity to learn about different cultures.

Making a difference to our students

For us here at la Trobe our link with the ASRC reflects our commitment to clinical legal education, having recently established a ‘Fast Track’ legal clinic where our students provide assistance to people seeking asylum under the supervision of an ASRC lawyer. It is hoped that through exposure to this professional context, our students will acquire a knowledge of the importance of tailoring services for specific problems and demographic groups and of ensuring an integrated response to legal and non-legal needs. It also supplements our classroom work, by underlining that true knowledge of the law requires not merely a knowledge of the rules, but of the people who encounter and use them.

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