Loddon Campaspe CLC’s Clinical Legal Education Program (CLEP), delivered in partnership with La Trobe University Bendigo’s law faculty since 2007, offers placements to students like Rob and Nicole who are completing the Rural and Regional Issues in Justice (RRIJ) elective.
Students have overwhelmingly endorsed the program, with many sharing the sentiment in a recent review that the program really opened their eyes to rural justice issues. Unfortunately, ongoing funding from the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department has not been guaranteed.
The CLEP allows students to gain experience of legal practice in a regional setting, inspiring and encouraging them to return to practice in regional/rural settings upon graduation.
This aspiration addresses concerns expressed by the Law Council in relation to the recruitment and retention of legal practitioners in country Australia. The Council has found that “…evidence suggests lawyers in regional areas are experiencing increasing difficulties in attracting and retaining suitable staff. These recruitment problems have a direct effect on the legal sector’s ability to service the legal needs of regional communities.”
The CLEP was also an opportunity to expose students to the Community Legal Centre sector, promote a commitment to volunteering and pro bono support of CLC’s once admitted to practice.
Loddon Campaspe CLC appointed a lawyer, Chris Casey, in 2010 to co-ordinate and supervise the CLEP within the service. Funding for the program recently expired at the end of semester 2.
Since 2010 we have hosted almost 30 students. Each placement has focused on family issues, including violence within the family, relationship breakdown, child protection, homelessness or the abuse of elderly parents by their adult children.
Earlier this year we surveyed previous students and volunteers who completed their placement or completed their RRIJ elective and volunteered with us while studying. We wanted to know if they were willing to return to rural or regional areas to practice law and whether they had developed a commitment to volunteering and pro bono assistance.
16 students responded to the survey. Four had already graduated and had either been admitted to practice or were currently undertaking a legal traineeship. The remaining 12 respondents were still studying.
62.5 % of students saw themselves working in regional or rural areas in five years’ time. 15 respondents saw themselves volunteering once admitted to practice. The remaining student was no longer studying law. The students’ assessment of the value of their RRIJ placement were consistently effusive.
“Amazing. The program is extremely valuable to students. Not only does it develop their skills as a legal practitioner but it is an eye opener to the real world in many cases, however at the same it is so rewarding.”
“I have no doubt that having this experience on my resume separates me from the pack when it comes to post-graduation job opportunities. Being able to work with and meet many local lawyers was also an invaluable networking opportunity.”
However, without funding we do not have the resources to supervise and support RRIJ students. We also receive no funding for volunteer coordination or support of our Professional Legal Training (PLT) program, which provides placements or practical legal training to students and recent graduates. We regularly receive placement requests from PLT and Graduate students. Placement periods sought vary from 25-75 days and are often the final requirement before a graduate can apply for admission to practice.
Loddon Campaspe CLC is asking government to make funding for the CLEP recurrent subject to the continuation of the RRIJ elective being offered by La Trobe University, Bendigo campus or an alternative provider.
We are also asking for funding for a one day per week Volunteer and PLT/Graduate coordination position. This position would supervise interviews and inductions, the preparation of work plans and tasks commensurate with the expertise and skills of the volunteers or graduates, appropriate supervision and follow up with each volunteer or graduate around progress and further development and appropriate management of reporting requirements (particularly in respect of PLT/Graduate placements).
For further information, please refer to the full report: Clinical Legal Education program review (2007 – 2012) of the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre.