QUT law students hone their social justice interest and legal skills by participating in Queensland's pioneering Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH).
QPILCH is a non-profit organisation which coordinates pro bono legal services for individual people and community groups with legal clinics for refugees, people who are homeless people, and people with mental health issues to ensure everyone has access to justice.
Fourth-year QUT law students are taking part in QPILCH's Self-Representation Service to assist in providing advice to people involved in civil cases who neither qualify for legal aid nor can afford a lawyer.
"These people are a rapidly growing group of litigants which presents challenges for both the self-represented litigant and the justice system," says QUT law graduate and Self-Representation Clinic supervisor Liz O'Connor, formerly a senior commercial litigation associate in a major law firm.
"The clinic is run as a mini legal practice where the students assist QPILCH's senior and volunteer lawyers help people who are representing themselves in the Federal, Supreme and District courts or the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
"This service also helps the courts run more smoothly by helping self-representing litigants prepare and lodge the correct documents on time which prevents delays and subsequent costs."
The QUT students follow and assist on each stage of the process: seeing the client for the first appointment where senior lawyers advise if they have a case or not. If they have, the students learn how to set out the legal position as concisely as possible.
If they need to draft documents required by the court, the students observe and assist the volunteer lawyers from city firms as they advise the self-represented litigant what needs to be included in the document and the feedback given on subsequent appointments.
"The process replicates the environment of a private law firm. The students learn to take instructions from senior lawyers at QPILCH, practise legal analysis and legal writing and experience dealing with the pressure of scheduling and filing documents within various limitation periods," Ms O'Connor said.
For student, Megan Southwell, taking this fourth year elective subject has helped her put theory into practice.
"Uni is very theoretical and here you put everything together that you've learnt and learn how to draw up documents such as case summaries and advice memos.
"It is very a good grounding. It's been very worthwhile and I've learnt a lot."
Ben Chapman says participating in QPILCH has reinvigorated his passion for law.
"It's definitely given me valuable insights into the different actions and why the service is necessary. When study is dry, you can see the finish line," he said.
QUT is the only law school whose students participate in QPILCH's Self-Representation Services' Student Clinic. The Service was the first to be introduced in Australia at a time when such a service was offered only in the Royal Courts of Justice in London and Minnesota courts in the US.