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Pro bono : Public exposure

Every Issue

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.87

An internship program aims to expose high achieving law students to public policy and public benefit thinking.

The Victoria Law Foundation (VLF) has instituted a “public policy inter n-ship scheme” for talented law students which provides 20 days of pro bono work to public sector/public benefit organisations. Piloting the scheme last year with three students at the VLF proved such a success that a number of other public sector agencies, including the Office of the Public Advocate, the Victorian Law Reform Commission and the Victorian Council of Social Service, have taken students on winter placements to complete a number of key projects which, without their help, may not have been undertaken. Students have also been selected to take part in summer placements at these and other agencies.

The VLF hopes that this early involvement in public interest work will continue to influence students throughout their professional lives.

Wherever their future careers lead them, an orientation to the “public good” is one important way of fostering a pro bono ethos among the next generation of legal professionals.

According to the first group of guinea pig interns, Luke Arnold, Beth Midgely and Sharon Conners-Holliday, the opportunity of working on policy development and public benefit activities was “a hugely rewarding experience”.

All three have demonstrated their ongoing commitment to the area by undertaking volunteer work at PILCH, the International Women’s Development Agency and the ILO in Indonesia.

The students found the legal policy internship unique and diverse. All the interns were involved in the coordination of activities for Law Week – a major community legal education initiative jointly coordinated by the Victoria Law VLF and the Law Institute.

Throughout the internship program, the students had the opportunity to attend meetings and participate in discussions with stakeholders in the pro bono legal sector.

All the interns were exposed to the grants process and the particular needs of community sector organisations in developing innovative new projects.

Students were also assigned individual projects. Beth Midgely set in motion the establishment of a new Law School Student Prize recognising students’ contribution to community work, which will support the enhancement of a pro bono culture at the earliest stages of legal education.

Luke Arnold coordinated an important staff development training opportunity for the community sector on “Working with the Media” while Sharon Conners-Holliday assisted in the establishment and presentation of the VLF’s inaugural “Distinguished Pro Bono Service Awards” presented by the Attorney-General last month to mark 30 years of community legal centres in Victoria.

Like most public benefit organisations, the VLF tries to “do more with less” and the willingness of the students to give up their holidays to assist with projects is greatly appreciated. One of the interns observed that “law students often find that a law degree provides limited exposure to the culture of pro bono and public interest work.

One of the most valuable aspects of the internship program was the opportunity to take part in public policy development ‘in action’”.

The most recent group of interns in the various agencies will be involved in pre paring submissions on matters of public concern such as the review of legislation dealing with children and young persons, disability discrimination and public transport.

Others have been working on the development of fact sheets on frequently asked questions to provide the public with information on particular programs and services. Interns also provide welcome assistance with many of the administrative arrangements necessary to keep project work on target.

For the agencies, the coordination of a volunteer internship program by the VLF has been a boon.

As one agency observed, “While we in theory welcome the contribution which talented young law students can make to our work, more often than not administering such a program and the provision of appropriate public policy training makes it too burdensome for us”.

The VLF’s willingness to assume responsibility for recruiting, selecting and training law students as part of its mandate to support legal education has meant that students’ skills are appropriately matched to specific projects.

The program also offers a formal training program so that agencies can make full use of students’ skills.

For students, understanding the public policy dimensions of public interest work may well prove to be the beginning of a long-term commitment to pro bono activities and public benefit outcomes.

Looking to help?

To facilitate lawyers and firms becoming involved in pro bono work other than legal services, the LIJ will profile a community group and its needs each month.

Name of group Anglicare Victoria
Contact person Natalie Gibbs
Title Marketing Services Manager
Tel 9321 6133
Address 12 Batman Street, West Melbourne 3003

Brief description of work of group One of Victoria’s leading charities and community development organisations, Anglicare Victoria works with children, youth and families in need. Through 45 sites and with more than 100 different programs, the agency develops and implements long-term change to local communities. As the state’s largest foster care provider, Anglicare Victoria works to give children every opportunity that life offers.
Current needs of group Anglicare Victoria’s Foster Care programs at Elsternwick, Lilydale, Box Hill, Preston, Broadmeadows and Yarraville offer children in need the chance to experience a normal family life. Foster children may be temporarily removed from their families due to parental illness, financial difficulty or unemployment, family housing problems or abuse. Fostering is the chance to provide children in our local communities with new opportunities, and a new start.
In the past foster carers were drawn from family units, but Anglicare is finding that many more professionals are offering their life experiences and stable, loving home environments to children in need. Whether single, a family unit, with or without children, Anglicare’s foster carers are drawn from all quarters of society and the community, with carers required on temporary, short-term, long-term and permanent bases. Information sessions are held regularly at all agency centres, and people interested in finding out further information may contact Anglicare Victoria on tel 9321 6133 for details on their nearest Anglicare centre.
Our foster carers are provided with training, 24-hour professional support, and the opportunity to make a positive difference and a lasting impression on the life of a child in need.
For more information about volunteering visit:

This column is coordinated by the VICTORIA LAW FOUNDATION. For further information contact the Pro Bono Secretariat via the VLF’s website


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