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In-house school lawyer a first

Briefs

Cite as: July 2015 89 (7) LIJ, p.11

Wyndham legal service

At a time when algebra should be their biggest problem, many high school students in Melbourne’s west are tackling hardship, homelessness and family violence.

Students at one school are about to get some help in facing such issues, and their legal repercussions, through the services of what is believed to be Australia’s first in-house school lawyer.

Vincent Shin will spend four days a week at The Grange in Hoppers Crossing as the school’s on-site lawyer and conduct weekly legal education sessions to students, families and staff as part of a two-year pilot program run by the Wyndham Legal Service.

The school is home to a diverse student body, including many who are from a low socio-economic background and are geographically, electronically and socially isolated. It is not uncommon for families to seek desperate help from the school when faced with eviction from rental homes.

Mr Shin said issues facing the student population were the same as those facing the Wyndham community – homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, financial problems, consumer law, family violence, mental health and familial issues.

He said it was important when dealing with young people to build relationships and break down the barriers to them seeking help by finding out what is happening in their lives.

“It is also important not to have a ‘stiff’ lawyer in a suit, who will find it almost impossible to engage with young people,” Mr Shin said.

Wyndham Legal Service senior policy lawyer Shorna Moore, who has delivered an outreach clinic at The Grange for the past year, said Mr Shin was an ideal candidate for the role.

She said Mr Shin had expertise in civil, family and criminal law and had spent time as a residential youth care worker before becoming a lawyer. Perhaps more importantly in the students’ eyes, he is an amateur boxer, break dancer and rides a motorbike.

Ms Moore said the idea for a school lawyer was inspired by the legal service’s Youth Couch Surfing Project, which explored issues faced by young people forced to sleep on friends’ couches to avoid becoming homeless.

“It’s all based on the idea of early intervention and trying to do everything we can to make it possible for the young person to stay at school,” Ms Moore said.

The pilot program, which began in June, will cost about $200,000 and has been funded through philanthropic organisations, including Newsboys Foundation, the RE Ross Trust, Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, The Jack Brockhoff Foundation and a grant from Slater and Gordon’s community fund.

Ms Moore said the program would be externally evaluated and if proven to be successful, it was hoped it would be replicated and expanded to other schools and community legal centres across the state.

Briefly
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