Lawyers at Schools: Promoting Access to Justice

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Classroom students

A school in Victoria is pioneering a trial that’s giving students and families better access to legal services.

Vincent Shin is Australia’s first school lawyer, working from the Grange P-12 College in Victoria. He looks just like any other twenty-something, wearing casual clothing. His office is a small classroom in the school grounds, and clients seem to love him – high-fiving him on school grounds and calling him ‘Vinny’.

It’s a world away from the big city firms where lawyers where suits and ties, have strict deadlines to meet and financial expectations, but it’s an innovation that’s intended to give young people and their families quick and free access to legal help.

Grange College introduced the position in response to continued requests from parents for assistance with tenancy and migration issues, such as rental disputes and visas. Now, with Mr Shin permanently on site, families have access to legal assistance without the high price tag, or the stringent means and merits tests required for legal aid.

Grange College says the school aims to help students and their families with broader issues, rather than just provide a teaching service.

Mr Shin has been working at the school for almost 12 months, assisting students and parents with a range of legal issues. The bulk of his work involves resolving employment issues like workplace bullying, underpayment and non-provision of contracts and pay slips – the kinds of things many teenagers face when they get their first part-time job. But he’s also been dealing with migration issues, a small number of minor criminal cases and a lot of family violence.

He has even helped students seek ‘intervention orders’ and to represent themselves in court. He recently spoke about his own experiences with a violent father in a short documentary by filmmakers PLGRM, so he can certainly relate to what his teenaged clients are going through.

His role is also educational – going into classrooms and explaining the hairy legal issues surrounding sexting and consent. It is hoped that having him readily available will help students overcome some of the hurdles of adolescence, supporting their growth into independent, confident adults.

The Victorian Commissioner for Children, Liana Buchanan, wants to see the ‘lawyers-in-schools’ program expanded across the state, with a view to providing access to as many students and their families as possible, potentially easing the burden on community legal centres and legal aid resources, while helping to address the growing issue of family violence.

Based on its early success, Ms Buchanan hopes more lawyers will soon be working in schools across Victoria.

The Legal Aid Commission is also keen to explore how it might be able to assist, potentially working with the State government to implement a broader program.

The initiative might be of particular interest to recent law graduates keen to gain practical experience before applying for jobs in the highly-stressful, competitive world of private legal practise.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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