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Pro bono : Starting early

Every Issue

Cite as: (2003) 77(6) LIJ, p.79

The tradition of pro bono begins at universities.

In March this year, the Victoria Law Foundation (VLF) initiated what is hoped will become an annual event – a meeting with the incoming presidents and executive members of university law student societies.

Chief Justice of the Victorian Supreme Court John Harber Phillips, who is also president of the VLF, welcomed the students to the Supreme Court, telling them that they “were the spiritual renewal of the profession” and that commitment to the highest ideals of the profession, including service to the community, was paramount.

At the meeting, the student representatives reported on the wide range of equity and social justice programs being undertaken by law student societies.

Deakin, La Trobe, Melbourne, Monash and Victoria University law student societies are committed to working together to foster students’ interests in pro bono and public benefit values as reflected in the following programs:

  • The volunteer database
    Initiated by Monash and La Trobe Universities, this database will soon be accessible to all law students. It features profiles on most community legal centres and law-related volunteer opportunities throughout Victoria. The database incorporates a “traffic light” system – a green signal indicating the organisations seeking volunteers and a red signal marking organisations not receiving applications. This resource matches supply and demand while also informing students about the work of community organisations.
  • Social justice lecture series
    Each year La Trobe University holds the Dr Brendan Cassidy Memorial Lecture. This year’s topic was AIDS and HIV from an African perspective. Monash University conducts the “Whose Justice” lecture series throughout the year, with topics such as Blackshirts and women’s rights, funding changes to legal aid, the ASIO Bill and Iraqi POWs. Tim Costello will be addressing Melbourne University law students in August.
  • Social justice essay writing competition
    This year Monash University will pilot a short essay writing competition featuring a policy/reform topic. The prize should foster an engagement with the political and social dimensions of law.
  • IHL moot
    Deakin, Melbourne, La Trobe and Monash Universities run this mooting competition on an annual basis with contestants debating a question of international humanitarian law. The competition is designed to encourage active involvement with the promotion of human rights. The winners from each university compete in a national competition and the winners of the national competition secure a placement with the Australian Red Cross.
  • Mentor program
    Last year Monash University commenced a mentor program in conjunction with the Faculty and Monash Alumni. The program, which is aimed at disadvantaged students, has been very successful in fostering communication between students and members of the profession.
  • Community legal services fair
    To augment the commercial law careers expo, Monash University has developed an “alternative careers fair” to which all community legal centres and public sector representatives such as the DPP and Victoria Legal Aid are invited. The annual event is well received by organisations and students alike.
  • Third World sponsorship
    Melbourne University has traditionally sponsored two children in Third World countries through World Vision. Students have taken a keen interest in the development of these children and projects undertaken in those countries.
  • Women in the law breakfast
    Deakin, Melbourne, La Trobe and Monash Universities held a breakfast in May this year to highlight and discuss issues facing women in the legal profession. The event aimed to expose students to issues before they encountered them in the workplace and to establish networking opportunities for women in the law.
  • Book scholarship programs
    Melbourne and Monash Universities provide a limited number of bursaries to subsidise the cost of law books for disadvantaged students. Priority is given to students in financial difficulty for texts in compulsory subjects. To stretch resources, a “living book” scheme allows textbooks purchased by the law student societies to be lent to students for the duration of the subject.

For more information about these and other projects for “the public good”, please contact any of the following:

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 Whitelion
Contact person Jenny Davidson
Title Program development coordinator
Tel 9389 4420
Address 900 Park Street, Parkville 3052
Brief description of work of group Whitelion is a not-for-profit organisation established in 1999 to address the needs of young people within the juvenile justice system in Victoria and post-release. Its programs seek to connect disadvantaged young people with life giving opportunities, motivating experiences and valuable relationships by providing role-modelling, mentoring and employment programs during their time in the juvenile justice system, in the difficult transition period post-release, and through preventative programs in the broader community.
Current needs of group Whitelion is looking for enthusiastic people to join the one-to-one mentoring program to build a supporting and encouraging relationship with a young person during their adjustment back into the community. The employment program requires the involvement of businesses willing to offer young women leaving custody much-needed vocational skills through work experience and jobs. Such an opportunity provides these young women with a chance to improve self-esteem and the possibility of a directional change in life.
Finally, there is always a need for financial and in-kind support.
For more information about volunteering visit:

This column is coordinated by the VICTORIA LAW FOUNDATION. For further information, contact the Pro Bono Secretariat at the VLF on tel 9602 2877, website


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