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Spotlight on Young Pro Bono Leaders
To celebrate National Pro Bono Day, the Centre asked nine young pro bono leaders across Australia to share their most rewarding moments and explain why they dedicate their time to pro bono. Click below to read each inspiring story.
Ella Alexander, Pro Bono Senior Associate, Makinson d’Apice Lawyers
I became a pro bono lawyer because I wanted to be able to help people in the same way that pro bono lawyers helped my family at a difficult time in our lives.
I’ve had many rewarding moments since becoming a pro bono lawyer but it’s hard to forget my time at Moria refugee camp in Greece. Building trust with clients who’d endured unimaginable trauma both in their home countries and in the camp so that I could prepare their papers was very rewarding. And I was elated when some of these clients messaged me months after I’d left to let me know that they’d been granted their visas.
A more recent experience was attending the funeral of a long term elder abuse client. Our work ensured that the client’s home was transferred to his long term partner in accordance with his wishes but contrary to the intentions of the person who had control of the property. In the eulogy, the client’s family personally named and thanked me as well as the lawyer who’d had primary carriage of the matter. It was very rewarding to think that we’d had such an impact on his life.
Nesha Balasubramanian, Senior Associate, Pro Bono Manager, DLA Piper Australia
To me pro bono is about using your skills to make a positive impact in the lives of people. On this journey so far, I have been humbled by what my clients have taught me.
One of my most rewarding pro bono experiences was being in New York and supporting an organisation called United Stateless, which was led entirely by a diverse group of stateless people. I supported them on strategy, legal advocacy, and shared my knowledge on how to work with pro bono law firms. It was incredibly inspiring to see stateless people being empowered to lead an organisation that they had founded. They brought together allies and found solutions that responded to their own lived experience of statelessness. Many of those in the organisation had not seen their families in a long time and had no prospect of seeing their families soon due to their stateless status. They were driven to find solutions so that others would not be in the same situation as them in future. To me, this experience was the greatest reminder of how important it is to amplify and centre the voices of those with lived experience in any work we do.
Arti Chetty, Senior Associate, Russell Kennedy Lawyers
My work largely relates to assisting people incarcerated in our immigration detention centres who cannot otherwise afford legal help. My clients navigate complicated legal questions which impact their liberty, opportunity to seek shelter in Australia, and, in some cases, their chances of being reunited with their families. The key motivator for me in pursuing pro bono legal work is the unparalleled opportunity to learn from a diverse group of clients, colleagues and exceptional pro bono counsel.
One of the most valuable experiences I have had undertaking pro bono work is recently working with an Aboriginal family to document their connections to each other and to country. The absolute privilege of speaking with my client and his Elders on important issues of identity and belonging has been humbling.
When asked about the value of pro bono legal work, we of course consider our clients and their legal outcomes, which can be transformative. An additional and ongoing reward to the work, however, is the chance to participate in a wider collaborative sector. Whether that is the refugee/migration sector, or pro bono sector more broadly, the ability to advocate alongside other lawyers and organisations for structural change, and to build knowledge and capacity together is truly excellent.
Susan Flynn, Pro Bono Lawyer, Clayton Utz
When I attended the Clayton Utz summer clerk cocktail night in 2014, I wasn’t entirely sure that a commercial career was for me. While I knew the calibre of the work at Clayton Utz and was impressed by how approachable and warm everyone I met was, I had always envisioned using my legal skills to help vulnerable people. It was why I became a lawyer. Imagine my surprise when I learned that ensuring access to justice can be a part of the everyday work of all lawyers, regardless of their practice group.
Assisting a client with literacy issues to remain housed, helping a young woman who has been the victim of multiple crimes get access to over $50,000 in recognition of the wrongs she has suffered, and standing by victims of sexual harassment and assault as they hold perpetrators to account, are all rewarding moments that come to mind. Most recently however, some of my moments have been working with new lawyers as they take carriage of their first pro bono matter and experience what it’s like to advocate for a client who otherwise has no one in their corner. Helping lawyers to experience the transformational nature of pro bono for both their clients and for them, is one of the best parts of my job.
Reimen Hii, Barrister, Qld
Undertaking pro bono work as a barrister allows me to serve and give back to the community by helping the growing number of people that are unable to afford private legal services and are ineligible for legal aid.
While the work is often difficult – emotionally, factually, and legally – it is energising being able to have a profound impact on someone’s situation. I find incorporating pro bono work in my practice to be professionally and personally fulfilling because:
I’m able to work on a diverse and challenging range of matters with intelligent and compassionate people;
I’m able to pay forward the generosity that was shown to me when I was a law student and earlier in my legal career; and
ultimately, because it is a deeply rewarding being able to help someone in genuine need.
All of the work is rewarding in their own unique way, however two recent matters that stand out are:
helping a young woman who had left an abusive relationship to successfully defend a civil claim from her ex-partner for repayment of an alleged loan which would have left her destitute and further victimised. I’m grateful to have assisted her to stand up against her ex-partner, empowering her and giving back the dignity she had been robbed of during her relationship.
assisting a refugee to judicially review his application for asylum after it was rejected by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. He had faced immense challenges and hardship coming to Australia, and felt helpless after he had unsuccessfully navigated the system himself. We were able to have his matter remitted to the Tribunal for a further determination after it was held that he had not been afforded natural justice when the Tribunal did not give him adequate notice of his review hearing.
Laura Muir, Pro Bono Specialist, Cancer Council NSW
Contributing to the community through my work, skills and knowledge is significant to me because you can see how law directly affects people. Throughout university, I fortunately had opportunities to work with public interest law firms and community organisations. These experiences provided insight into pro bono work for charitable organisations, pro bono counsel undertaking public interest litigation and more. Volunteering at EDO NSW was particularly inspiring, with lawyers there modelling the way for pursuing public interest careers. These insights during such a formative time led me to pursue a career working “for the public good.”
Now I work in Cancer Council’s Pro Bono Program ensuring disadvantaged cancer patients and their families have access to pro bono legal and financial assistance where they would be otherwise unable to afford it due to cost, illness, or other barriers. The most rewarding moments involve helping individuals alleviate stress so they can focus on their health, recovery, and family time. These have included supporting a client to access legal assistance to apply for early release of superannuation and insurance to allay her primary concern of knowingher young daughter would be looked after and have a roof over her head after she passed away.
Amelia Schubach, Head of Community & Pro Bono, Hamilton Locke
As a young adult, I volunteered with various social impact organisations in Sydney and around the world. Whilst my experiences showed the value of providing skilled assistance to disadvantaged groups, it reinforced the simple yet profound importance of time, energy and compassion. Understanding this, I felt empowered to pursue larger-scale community efforts despite my relatively limited professional experience. The opportunity to design and establish an impact-focused Community and Pro Bono Program, as a foundational aspect of new and fast-paced law firm, Hamilton Locke, has been invaluable.
Publishing the inaugural Community and Pro Bono Annual Report at the end of 2020 was an opportunity to reflect on the Program’s impact in its first year of operation, including contributing over $46,000 worth of pro bono legal services. The Program is built on key strategic partnerships with organisations that align on values and growth trajectory as Hamilton Locke. It has been incredibly rewarding providing ongoing pro bono legal support to Ocean Impact Organisation, which is committed to delivering on Australia’s first ocean impact start-up accelerator program, and The Hunger Project Australia, which empowers individuals to lift themselves out of poverty through, amongst other things, instilling a growth mindset.
Stephen Somerville, Senior Associate – Pro Bono, Herbert Smith Freehills
I decided to become a pro bono lawyer because of a number of experiences. During university, I worked on the information line at Legal Aid WA speaking with a variety of clients including prisoners and women escaping domestic violence. This role showed me the importance of legal representation and assistance. Prior to joining HSF, I worked for a judge who showed compassion and empathy for self-represented litigants and this exposed me to the importance of access to justice for everyone. I was then fortunate to be one of the team leaders of the Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project in HSF’s Melbourne office which combines legal representation with social work support. This role cemented my passion for social justice and the importance of holistic support.Lastly, a real turning point was being able to go on a Jawun secondment to the East Kimberley in Western Australia where in particular I was able to listen and learn from First Nations voices.
My most rewarding moment would have to be my first bail application for a client through the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre. I remember speaking with the client, his family and case worker to work out a plan of support, as well as negotiating with the police on appropriate bail conditions. I also remember the relief shown on the client’s face, as well as his family’s reaction, when the client was granted bail.
Dusan Stevic, Pro Bono National Advisor, King & Wood Mallesons
My legal career commenced when I landed the same role at two very different places. I was a volunteer paralegal at both Footscray Community Legal Centre and a suburban commercial firm. I immediately realised that I wanted to assist those that need help most. One of the most rewarding moments came while I was shadowing the duty lawyer at the Magistrates’ Court on Family Violence Intervention Order matters. Our client was a woman in her 80s, seeking an IVO against her husband after 50+ years of abuse. Her courage to stand up and protect herself was inspiring. Playing a small role in making an intimidating process a little bit easier for her to navigate reaffirmed my desire to pursue a pro bono career.
During the next 4 years I was admitted as a lawyer and continually increased my pro bono involvement, culminating in joining the Community Impact group at KWM. Inspiring moments come daily now: from working to change unfair laws, helping people avoid eviction to running legal education sessions in schools. So many people are suffering in so many ways, and small acts from all of us can often be enough to let them know that the community cares.