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Young Lawyers: Embracing diversity

Young Lawyers: Embracing diversity

By Yasin Azra



At 17, after a long journey from the Afghan warzone, including a stateless existence in Pakistan and a crossing from Indonesia in a fishing canoe, Yasin Azra arrived in Australia ready to contribute and make a difference.

  • Yasin embraced the opportunities provided by Victoria University in its Bachelor of Laws program to further his legal skills, including Victoria Police moot training and the Victorian Bar shadow program. 
  • He has used the skills and insights gained in his journey to inform and mould his career, leading him to volunteer for organisations that align with his experiences and to pursue a career in family and criminal law.
  • Firms which have a culturally-diverse workforce benefit commercially, culturally and reputationally.

Unlike most children with a cheerful memory of their childhood, I remember hiding in a basement and hearing bullets and rockets flying in the sky. Yet, I was among the lucky ones who safely escaped the Afghan warzone and sought shelter in Pakistan, where I spent the rest of my childhood as a stateless person.

In 2009, after a long journey from Indonesia by fishing canoe, I arrived in Australia as a refugee, aged 17. I had a new lease on life. I was able to call Australia – not just any country, but the most fortunate country – my home. Together with feelings of safety and peace, I had a great sense of gratitude. I felt it was time for me to contribute to society and help others in need. 

I have strived to work at places where my contributions give back to society and change people’s lives for the better. In my first year in Australia, I volunteered with the Migrant Resource Centre of South Australia while studying English foundation studies and working as a contract interpreter with Centrelink. 

In 2012, I commenced a Bachelor of Aviation at UniSA, which unfortunately I was unable to complete as I moved from Adelaide to Melbourne. I gained employment with the Salvation Army in their disability employment program. I moved due to having sponsored my family to come to Australia on a humanitarian visa. This meant that further studies had to be put on hold while I attended to my family obligations.

In 2016, after settling well in Melbourne, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Laws at Victoria University. Pursuing a career in law supports my quest to contribute to society through my work. The extracurricular activities Victoria University provides gives students excellent opportunities to further their legal skills. I had the honour of participating in the criminal law moot, the Victoria Police moot training, the Victorian Bar shadow program and the Dandenong Family Court shadow program. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting and gaining valuable insight from law giants such as the Hon Michael Kirby, the Hon Peter Lauritsen, the British High Commissioner Victoria Treadell and many other professionals.

I also volunteered at the Shamama Association of Victoria, assisting other refugees with settlement issues, as I understood the struggles that newcomers faced.

In my first career in the employment sector, my ability to understand cultural diversity, communicate effectively with people of all backgrounds and deliver specific services to businesses and job seekers gave me a significant advantage. 

Undoubtedly, I had developed valuable skills due to my diverse cultural background, life experience, resilience and ability to learn from each new opportunity. These skills allowed me to work with clients and meet individual needs, and earn appreciation from my colleagues. I also had the pleasure of working with the LIV as a referral coordinator where our team was able to reduce referral service delivery times by half. 

These are some of the important skills that people from diverse cultural backgrounds can bring to companies. These skills can help companies establish relationships and meet the needs of their clients (including those from culturally diverse backgrounds), as well as improve cultural awareness among all employees.

When I graduate at the end of 2020, I plan on pursuing a career in family and criminal law. My passion for this area is aligned with my desire to contribute positively to people’s lives. It is extremely challenging and equally rewarding to be able to identify, understand and accommodate the needs of families – particularly children – from culturally diverse backgrounds involved in family proceedings.

Such proceedings can be very stressful for the family members involved. Where law firms are unable to convey messages in simple terms or clients are unable to comprehend complex legal terminology, a breakdown in communication can occur and it can be the tipping point for everyone involved. Having a culturally-diverse person on the team can turn an exhausting and stressful situation into a positive transfer of information. 

Firms which have a culturally-diverse workforce benefit commercially, culturally and reputationally, which extends to their employees and clients, and contributes to their bottom line.■

Yasin Azra is a Victoria University law student completing Honours.

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