UniSA law students learn the ropes through free legal clinics

UniSA law students learn the ropes through free legal clinics

UniSA law students are offering free legal advice to assist residents of South Australia, including students, with their issues. Whether it’s a conversation about family, or a more delicate matter, the clinic doors are open to all who require guidance and support. (Image Source: University of South Australia)

By Ashleigh Buck | @ashkbuck

Final year law students are learning the ropes of legal practice with hands-on experience through a legal clinic open to the public

From Tuesday to Friday residents of South Australia can book an appointment at UniSA’s City West Campus or simply walk-in at the Magistrates Court in Port Adelaide and chat to its friendly clinic staff for free legal advice.

Legal advice ranges from criminal, family, debt claims, car accidents, tenancy, and neighbourhood disputes.

The clinic offers experience to law students coming to the end of their degrees in a small practice, to further assist development of their skills and knowledge.

Nicole Nanziri Lwanga is a former law student who worked in the free clinic for 10 weeks during the intensive period to put into practice the theoretical knowledge she had gained in her years studying.

“Engaging with the clients and the pressure of being responsible for giving legal advice were two things I found daunting when I first started working at the Clinic,” Nicole said.

“I found that the more interviews I conducted and feedback I received from my supervisor the more confident I became when interacting with the clients which relieved the pressure, I had put on myself.

“The Clinic greatly improved my communication skills and taught me new skills pertaining to case management that I have been able to use while at Placement and while doing my GDLP [Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice], it has surely set a good foundation for my career as a solicitor.”

Working with real-life problems and having the opportunity to converse not only with the public but with fellow students and family, allows them to understand what is required of them in a professional workspace.

“Clinics are a very good form of learning, not only are they providing a service to the community but the students that participate come away from the experience with a great idea of legal practice and having learned vital skills that will be used in the profession,” Nicole said.

Matthew Atkinson is the Managing Solicitor at the Legal Advice Clinic and believes the nature of clinical practice means no two days are ever the same, and it allows the students to learn to expect the unexpected.

“The Clinic builds directly on the practical skills and experiential learning developed by the law discipline curriculum,” Matthew said.

“It provides a meaningful context for the implementation of skills which otherwise will be learned and practiced only in simulated settings, thus adding value to existing teaching practices and learning outcomes.”

Matthew said students get to experience first-hand interviewing clients and obtaining detailed instructions from them, which they then draft into legal documents.

Students also learn about client-centred practice from participating in the Clinic.

“Fundamental attributes of client-centred practice are communication, active listening skills, and empathy,” Matthew said.

“Students will not only be required to operate upon their body of legal knowledge, but they will be required to communicate that knowledge in a way that is useful and meaningful to the clients.”

As a client you are treated with utmost respect and understanding no matter how big your issue is.

Students often find that speaking with someone of similar age who is studying is less daunting than calling in a big-time lawyer from a large firm; not to mention the clinics are free, which is a university student’s dream.

Having one-on-one conversations makes discussing personal and distressing matters feel more comfortable and reliable. The tight knit community of legal professionals and students allows for individuals to feel as though they are being heard.

Available times do vary depending on the clinic you attend. The Magistrate’s Court is a drop-in service, and our City West campus is by appointment only.

For those interested in making an appointment at one of the clinics you can find more information here.

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