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Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) 2006
Bachelor of Laws (Honours) 2007
When James Farrell started his commerce/law degree at Deakin in 2002, he had no idea he'd end up in a homeless shelter seven years later.
James is the Manager and Principal Lawyer of the PILCH Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic (HPLC), which visits 12 homeless agencies across Melbourne and regional Victoria to provide legal advice and assistance to people who are homeless.
'People who are homeless face all sorts of social and economic barriers,' said James. 'This can include issues with a legal dimension, including consumer credit/debt issues, fines and other minor criminal matters, tenancy problems and disputes with Government agencies like Centrelink or the Tax Office.We work with people to resolve these issues, helping them to deal with some of their problems and allowing them to focus on more important issues, like finding housing.'
The HPLC relies on the support of over 300 volunteer lawyers from large commercial law firms, who attend the clinics to meet with clients and provide advice or conduct ongoing casework. 'The model is a great example of the way lawyers contribute to their communities, and the positive impact that the law, and lawyers, can make,' says James.
After graduating with a commerce degree in 2006 and a law (honours) degree in 2007, James began his legal career with Corrs Cambers Westgarth, a large national corporate firm. He practised in taxation law, mainly in dispute resolution, but was drawn to the firm's pro bono practice, which included working with the HPLC.
'I really enjoyed my time in private practice,' said James. 'The people I worked with were very supportive and I had some terrific opportunities, particularly in terms of my professional development.' While working with Corrs, James continued his studies, completing a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, a Masters of Laws and a Graduate Diploma of Applied Human Rights.
The chance to undertake a secondment at PILCH was a fabulous opportunity that James thoroughly enjoyed. 'I wanted to make the most of my time in corporate practice, but I knew that I wanted to use my education and my skills to work in human rights and social justice.' In 2009, James jumped at the opportunity to join the HPLC.
James describes his work at the HPLC as exciting and dynamic. 'On any given day, I might meet with a client to help them resolve their legal issues, I might provide oral testimony before a parliamentary inquiry, I might speak to the media to raise issues that are affecting our clients. There's no such thing as a typical day, and there's very rarely a boring day.'
This varied experience includes James' positions as a Director of the Council to Homeless Persons and Treasurer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, as well as sitting on other advisory groups and committees and recently, a contributor to the International Council on Human Rights Policy's project in Geneva on the penalisation of poverty.
When asked what advice he'd give Deakin students, James says, 'I got involved in lots of the things that were happening on campus, including the Deakin Law Students' Society, the Deakin Commerce Students' Society and other committees and forums like the Faculty Board. While I'd encourage people to engage in university life, and with the benefit of hindsight I'd focus on studying to learn, rather than studying to pass.'
'And remember, your experience at Deakin will give you a great education and important skills - it would be great if you could use that privilege to make a contribution to your community.'
Find out more about how you can volunteer at PILCH.
Postscript: In late 2011 James took the next step in his career, joining the lecturing staff at Deakin.