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I completed my Law Clinic placement at Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) in Geelong in 2009.
VLA gives free legal advice to people who are socially or economically disadvantaged and don't have other means of getting legal help.
I have a particular interest in the public legal system which provides accessible, high quality legal advice and advocacy, so I welcomed the opportunity to work at VLA during Law Clinic.
Four other Deakin Law students and I completed Law Clinic at VLA. Three students were rostered to spend the placement day interviewing clients who were booked in for legal advice or information at the VLA offices; one student was rostered to attend the Geelong Magistrates Court with the VLA Duty Solicitor; and the other student went to Marngoneet Prison, a medium-security prison located outside Geelong, with the VLA lawyer who provides legal advice to prisoners.
On a typical day in the VLA office we would interview 3-4 clients whose legal issues might involve matters such as traffic offences or infringement fines, disputes with product manufacturers or retailers, outstanding debts, neighbourhood disputes, deceased estate problems, etc.
Because we were working under supervision and therefore unable to give legal advice to clients, our role was to interview the client and gather all relevant information which we then discussed with our supervising VLA solicitor. We learnt interviewing skills which helped us to identify and gather the relevant facts quickly and comprehensively.
We also learnt problem solving - working out the key legal issues and the best solutions - which is the heart of legal practice. We spent the remainder of the day drafting correspondence to clients, other parties or their solicitors, the police etc. as follow-up to our interviews.
The day in the Magistrates Court was hectic. We 'shadowed' the Duty Solicitor whose day consisted of running from one court room to another in between interviewing clients, negotiating with police prosecutors or opposing counsel, chasing up court records etc.
The day at the prison was also enlightening. The VLA lawyer interviewed prisoners about everything from prisoner rights to missing property.
The best part of Law Clinic was the variety of work and the chance to put into practice some of the theory, which is taught in law school.
Every legal problem has a solution and the lawyer's skill is in working out the best one for the client at the time. Law Clinic gave me a brief insight into how important it is to know and understand the law and, just as importantly, to use interpersonal skills to negotiate and implement a successful outcome.
The biggest challenge for me personally was to remain focussed on the legal issues and not be too distracted by other issues confronting the clients such as low income, homelessness, family breakdown, etc.
The lawyer's job is to deal with legal rights and obligations even though these are often inextricably bound up with all the other aspects of the client's personal situation.
I would certainly recommend Law Clinic to all Deakin Law students. I found it stimulating and challenging. It required me to work in a team with the other students in my Law Clinic and to fit into an office environment with experienced lawyers and administrative staff.
Law Clinic has given me a different perspective on law studies and a better appreciation of how legal principles apply in the real world.