APLEC, Saturday am, presentation 1

by Paul Maharg on 12/11/2011

In the first of the small group sessions on Saturday, I attended the ‘Addressing Stakeholders Needs’ stream. First up was Helen McGowan, on ‘The Bush lawyer pipeline: service learning and practical legal training in regional Australia’. Legal aid, aboriginal community service and other adjacent services that were RRR — regional, rural and remote [check out the videos on the home page] — were what Helen was focusing on, and she was making the point that lawyers could make a living from working within it and have a satisfying career in doing so.

Helen pointed out the issues involved — the justice agenda, how difficult it was to work within a sector that was underfunded and where lawyers dealt with chronic needs. Service learning, for her, involved:

  • justice dialogue within the profession and which includes the regional community
  • students devise, develop, dliver, deocument, critically reflect on the project
  • capitalize on the students’ energy, skills and enthusiasm.

The critical question, she pointed out, was who goes out to Broken Hill? I don’t know anything about the place but it sounded like an area of multiple deprivation.  She then showed us a map of legal services in Australia, showing areas of representation (inevitably clustered around urban centres) and huge areas of under-representation — the RRR of AU.  Quite a sobering graphic, and a powerful reminder of how critical the concept of distribution actually is: how services (or indeed anything) is distributed, how that has happened historically, how the map can be changed.

The rural career pipeline involved whole of life learning about the justice system and the use of tools for advocacy and conflict resolution, law schools in local law schools, and the support of the local profession. She showed a really neat web-based placement matching service, which has lots of possibilities in other jurisdictions, not least our own in the UK (and yes, RRR is a problem in Scotland).

What was being learned: existing services were often overwhelmed and needed to be coaxed and supported to participate. Having a connection to the area helped, but 50% of lawyers in RRR didn’t have one to start with. Supervising lawyers need support, education and recognition for their work. Placements require resources, time, office support, fly-in fly-out. Generating resources was important. NBN mentoring, supervision training, train & track elements etc was essential.

Fine session. So much to explore and understand — a very well designed project.  Helen’s session reminded me so much of my background in social community work in Glasgow.  Before I turned to law I worked for around seven years as a part-time tutor in adult literacy in outreach programmes in areas like Ruchill, Springburn & Maryhill.  It was a reaction to seven prior years of literary theory, a bursting out into the world with a determination to do something worthwhile (helped by a diploma in education).  Listening to Helen brought that back to me.


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