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LIV President's Blog 2012

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Is it time to make new conditions before law students can be admitted?

Is it time to make new conditions before law students can be admitted?

Guest Blog by David Mejia-Canales

After being kindly sponsored by DLA Piper to attend the student and main stream sessions of the National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference I have a new found belief for one thing. I am probably not going to win over any of my fellow law students with this belief, but maybe, just maybe, it’s time to rebuild our admission to practice guidelines.

Not a revamp or review of them but a rebuild from the ground up so that the guidelines can also be used as a way of tackling the great demand for unmet legal need.

There is no shortage of law students who are, or would like to be involved in pro bono work while still at university; and there are some great firms and organisations that tap into this passion, however, there is more that can be done. 

The President of the Law Society of England and Wales spoke at the conference about how in England they tap into a large pool of law students to lessen the impact of massive legal aid funding cuts in matters that can addressed and resolved without a lawyer. For example, law students are engaged to act as independent persons in interviews regarding the assessment of disabled people to return to work.  English Law students sit in on interviews and take notes of proceedings so that an independent record of the interview exits.

In Australia, students of medicine must complete practical as well as theoretical components to their study. As a community, we expect all of our doctors to be theoretically competent as well as excellent in their practice; however we do not have the same standards for all new lawyers. A law student can spend their whole time at law school without ever gaining the invaluable practical experience of even speaking to a client.  Perhaps  it is time to seriously look at trying to address some access to justice issues by establishing a scheme requiring students to engage in practical experience through pro bono work as a requirement to legal practice.

The infrastructure to implement this lofty scheme does not exist yet, and much would be required to establish it.  RMIT University has started turning the wheel recently with the launch of their Centre for Innovative Justice headed by ex-Attorney General Rob Hulls.  The centre's ultimate aim is to have a legal practice clinic on campus for the benefit of RMIT JD students, and of course, the community.  If we can have practice hospitals for med students, why can't we have practice clinics for lawyers?

Access to justice for vulnerable people is getting harder and harder, what we need is not business as usual but maybe some innovative and radical ideas that involve the whole profession from law students upwards.  Access to justice and unmet legal need are issues that belong to us as a whole profession so we should all look to find solutions, students included. 

If you missed the conference, or want a recap on some of the great conversations that were had search for the conference twitter hash tag #A2JC13

The National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference is a joint initiative of the Law Institute of Victoria, The Law Council of Australia and the National Pro Bono Resource Centre. 

What do you think? Should we change our admission rules to require pro bono work by all law students?

David Mejia-Canales was part of the Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference student session organising committee. He regularly blogs about law student life at www.aftersalazar.com

E/ dmejia83@mac.com

W/ aftersalazar.com

T/ @drebbechi

 

 
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naomi
Completely support this. Institutions like Monash already offer incredibly valuable professional practice courses via the Monash Oakleigh Legal Service and Springvale Monash Legal Service. Students gain real experience in practical legal skills while developing a hands-on appreciation of issues relating to unmet legal need and equitable access to justice. Courses like this should be mandatory for any student in their penultimate or final year, as it places theoretical knowledge into practical context and teaches skills that simply cannot be learnt while sitting in a lecture theatre.
12/04/2013 6:12:08 PM

Shefali Kumar
Yes, I totally agree with rewamp of our admission to practice guidelines. Infact while I recently completed my PLT at College of Law I did in one of the Probono sessions made same comment that why shoudl not the law students get opportunity to do probono work and why shuold this not be the part of our professional start more over once we succeed in profession we may forget or do not get time to do Probono.
27/03/2013 2:37:29 PM

John corker
I support this idea. But it does need a lot of planning and support to implement it because there has to be good structured opportunities for students to be involved with. We should watch the NY experience closely. Go David !
23/03/2013 9:52:42 AM

Nath
I totally agree. As a first year solicitor myself, I am constantly frustrated that I spent so many years at law school and yet essentially know nothing when it comes to the practical tasks of being a criminal and family solicitor. A scheme like the author suggests could help society and the students, as well as ensuring law firms would be hiring new grads with at least a modicum of experience.
22/03/2013 1:55:41 PM

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