Models for student involvement in pro bono
Universities are often a place where an interest in social justice is first sparked. There are a number of well-established models for student involvement in pro bono.
A great way to get involved in social justice initiatives, particularly those that deliver pro bono legal services is to volunteer. Your student law society or faculty may have a listing of opportunities available for students locally.
The Centre hosts two websites which also provide guidance on volunteering opportunities:
Clinical legal education
You may also have the opportunity to become involved in student pro bono legal work through your University’s clinical legal education program. A clinical legal education program generally involves undertaking some form of placement at a legal service provider, such as a community legal centre, in return for course credit.
For more information on the clinical legal education courses available at Australian Universities please see the Clinical Legal Education Guide published by Kingsford Legal Centre.
The Australian Pro Bono Centre Information Paper, Pro bono & clinical legal education programs in Australian law schools, explains the difference between pro bono and clinical legal education.
Below are examples of three clinical legal education programs:
Monash University was the first Australian university to develop a clinical legal education program over 30 years ago.
Currently Monash offers three different clinical legal education courses: Professional Practice, Professional Practice (Family Law Assistance Program) and Advanced Professional Practice (which encompasses eight separate clinics). As part of these courses students participate in a variety of tasks including casework, law reform and education projects, under the supervision of a qualified lawyer.
Each clinical period runs for 17 weeks and as part of the program students may be required to attend a weekly seminar. Students are assessed using teacher discussions, case reports and reflections.
The University of New South Wales and Kingsford Legal Centre
The University of New South Wales currently offers 12 clinical courses, four in conjunction with the Kingsford Legal Centre.
Kingsford Legal Centre is run by the UNSW Law Faculty and assists over 3,000 people per year. As part of the Kingsford Legal Centre/UNSW clinical legal education courses students can participate in the day to day operations of KLC either one or two days per week under the supervision of a lawyer.
A student’s work at KLC may involve case and file management, legal research, interviewing clients, and drafting advice, letters and court documents. For some courses students are required to attend tutorials and seminars which explore the clinic experience.
University of Queensland and the UQ Pro Bono Centre
The University of Queensland operates the UQ Pro Bono Centre, which creates “diverse and meaningful opportunities for students to participate in the delivery of pro bono legal services.” One way they do this is by operating a ‘Volunteer Roster’ of some 400+ senior law students who have registered their willingness to undertake pro bono work, a unique resource in Australia. UQ law students are linked with law firms, barristers, community legal centres, non-government organisations and charities seeking student assistance in their pro bono activities. Assistance may involve: remote research for law reform submissions, policy or pro bono casework; or on-site assistance to conduct service evaluations, front-line intake etc.
UQ law academics often supervise students’ legal research conducted through the UQ Pro Bono Centre. UQ academics also help to generate referrals to the Centre from within their established networks with the legal profession and broader social services sector. The UQ Pro Bono Centre applies the APBC’s definition of pro bono to all student pro bono activities.
The UQ Pro Bono Centre also operates 10 clinics using the clinical legal education model (see above). The clinics include the Prison Law Clinic, Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic (QPILCH), Public Interest Research Clinic (QPILCH), Consumer Law Advice Clinic (Caxton Legal Centre) and Refugee and Immigration Law Clinic (RAILS) to name a few.
Depending on the clinic that students attend they will be involved in a combination of casework, law reform, policy and research work under the supervision of qualified lawyers. Students attend their allocated clinic for one day per week and before their placement commences they must attend a clinic induction.
University of Technology Sydney Model: Brennan Justice and Leadership Program
The Brennan Justice and Leadership Program was launched by the UTS Faculty of Law and the UTS Law Students Society in 2011. The Program has over 1,020 active members and aims to “develop intellectual, volunteer and leadership capacities.” Its focus is broader than the provision of student pro bono
The Program is comprised of two components:
- Reflections on Justice – as part of this component student attend lectures and group discussions on justice. Lectures are worth a certain number of points and completion is dependent on accruing 100 points.
- Leadership through Service – this component involves undertaking volunteer work in either a legal or a non-legal setting. Completion of this component is dependent on accruing 100 Leadership hours.
Students do not receive academic credit for completing the program per se, however they do receive the Brennan Justice and Leadership Award, which is included on their academic transcript.
The Canadian experience & Western Sydney University
Pro Bono Students Canada was established at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law in 1996 as a public interest organisation dedicated to providing law students with hands on legal experience in public interest law, and communities in need with free legal information. Since that time, PBSC has grown into a national network of law schools and community organisations enabling law students who want to do pro bono work to volunteer with non-profit organisations, government agencies, courts and tribunals and lawyers working pro bono. Each year, approximately 2,000 students participate in PBSC programs at all 21 law schools across Canada, providing approximately 130,000 hours of free legal services. Students do not receive course credit for their participation in PBSC.
PBS has three key objectives:
- To provide law students with volunteer opportunities to develop their legal skills.
- To have a positive impact on the legal profession by promoting the value of pro bono service to the next generation of lawyers.
- To increase access to justice across Canada.
Based on the success of the PBSC program a pilot project adopting a similar structure, Pro Bono Students Australia, was established at Western Sydney University in 2004 in conjunction with the Centre. While the project was a success, since this time UWS has instead preferred to use its clinical education programs to instil a pro bono ethos in its students. The conference paper How does pro bono fit with clinical legal education in Australia? provides further information on the experience of UWS with the PBSA program.
Law Student Societies and Faculties
As mentioned above, Law Student Societies and Faculties often list local volunteer opportunities that allow students to become involved in student pro bono.
The Australia Law Students’ Association has also released a statement, Encouraging a Pro Bono Ethos, endorsed several initiatives for law student societies to foster a pro bono ethos among law students (see also ALSA’s full list of member law student societies).
Each year the NSW Young Lawyers Association hosts the Public Interest Careers Fair. This is a great opportunity for students to explore getting involved in student pro bono and a career in social justice.