Public Interest Law Careers Guide - remote, rural and regional lawyering
Access to justice in remote, rural and regional areas is a serious issue for many Australians. Most lawyers, including graduates, are focused on city-based careers. However, there is a broad range of opportunities to be found outside the major cities. Working in country locations offers a lawyer the chance to work in ways that have a tangible impact on local communities, and handle a wide variety of matters. Work/life balance is generally better, with little or no traffic, beautiful locations and more time for family and recreation. Many lawyers serving regional areas are currently nearinf retirement age. If you're the sort of person who wants to live in a beautiful location and have space for bushwalking, chickens and gardening in your life, as well as make a real difference in a local community, RRR lawyering could be for you.
Working in Regional, Rural and Remote Australia
Tips from Helen McGowan
The term ‘regional, rural and remote' or RRR includes all areas of Australia outside the capital cities or ‘metropolitan' Australia. A 2011 survey identified 59,280 Australian solicitors. (Urbis 2011 National Profile). This survey found only 12.8% of our profession practices law outside the major cities and they are serving the legal needs of the 31% of Australians who live in RRR areas. Take a look at this map. See those tiny red bits which represent the major cities? That is where 50,000 lawyers work. The ratio is 1 lawyer to 302 people. See all those other colourful areas, that is where the rest of us are working. In RRR Australia the ratio can be up to one lawyer to 3,000 people.
Consider working in ‘the bush' for at least part of your life. Chances are you will learn a lot quickly. Working in the bush requires you to navigate the challenges of travel, accommodation and new working cultures. Typically you will have direct client work and be exposed to a range of issues.
What is available in ‘the bush'?
There are two options for solicitors in the bush; the private profession and the public profession. Well there are probably a whole other lot of options too; court work, child protection solicitor with the government department, local government, corporate work, but in this section we are just focusing on these two. Many private country lawyers will also do publicly funded legal aid work; either as duty solicitor in the local court or through family law and criminal clients who receive grants of aid.
Publicly funded legal assistance services include the regional Legal Aid offices, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Community Legal Centres and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services. Legal assistance services provide free legal and related services to the public. The legal assistance services' focus is on working with disadvantaged people. They work in the public interest. Legal assistance services are committed to working to ensure that all people have access to justice. They are spread through out regional, rural and remote locations. If you want to see which services are in specific communities, consider using the search facility at the NACLC website.
The NACLC RRR projects work with services from ‘remote' areas such as Katherine (NT) and Kununurra (WA) however we also work in the ‘outer regional' areas such as Kalgoorlie, Geraldton (WA) Cairns and Townsville (Qld). Many legal services are based in inner regional areas such as Bendigo (Vic), Albury Wodonga (Vic/NSW border) Townsville and Toowoomba (Qld).
Finding a job in the bush
It is a curious thing that although we frequently hear about shortages of lawyers to fill vacancies in the bush, these vacancies can be hard to find. Often lawyers don't advertise and prefer to use ‘word of mouth' or hope that some one entirely suitable, just ‘turns up'.
Go and visit: Door knock
If you have identified a geographical area you would like to work in (perhaps it is close to the snow fields, water sports, national parks, surf beaches) consider taking a Friday off and head there and door knock the legal practices. Maybe you have done your research first and know the senior lawyer's name, areas of practice, history and you have worked out your ‘pitch' about why you would be a good person for this legal practice. You could phone first and say you plan to be in town next Friday, could you visit for 20 minutes to discuss career options. It really helps if you have connections to the area (relatives, holiday there).
However sometimes RRR lawyers do advertise. Keep an eye on the RRRLaw website developed by the Law Council of Australia. From time to time both private lawyers and the public profession advertise their vacancies there under the ‘jobs' tab.
In our work within the not for profit legal sector, we have heard good reports of the efficiency of Jason Elias. He runs a recruitment consultancy called Elias Recruitment (visit the Elias Recruitment website) and is developing a reputation for finding matches for legal services recruiting lawyers for their regional, rural and remote positions. Jason has provided workshops for legal services about how to recruit and retain our people. He is generous with his time and gets results.
Legal Assistance Sector
The NACLC run an internet based ‘bulletin board' service for the sector to advertise its vacancies. This can be frantic at times with positions advertised across the nation. Visit the NACLC website
Social Justice Opportunities
This website is funded and supported by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre. There is an active twitter feed to supplement the weekly updates on vacancies.
Visit the Social Justice Opportunities website
Follow on Twitter @SJOpps
NACLC RRR Practical Legal Training Placements
For more information visit the NACLC website
Practical Legal Training is an alternative to traineeships in Victoria and articles in Western Australia. In the other states, PLT seems to be the only pathway to admission. PLT is a formal course which offers you a qualification such as the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice. The NACLC RRR PLT project helps graduates to find a placement to do a short term 20 days to 8 week - work experience. We work with the ten Australian Providers:
- Australian National University Legal Workshop
- Bond University Post Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice
- College of Law
- Flinders University Practical Legal Training Program
- Griffith University Legal Clinics
- Leo Cussen
- Queensland University of Technology Legal Practice Course
- Law Society of South Australia Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice.
- University of Tasmania, Centre for Legal Studies
- University of Technology Sydney PLT
Before choosing your PLT provider, take a look at a few options as there are significant differences in approaches, cost and reputation. Talk to people who have done ‘the College', ‘The Workshop' or ‘Leos'.
The NACLC RRR PLT project currently works with 55 legal assistance services throughout regional, rural and remote Australia. By completing your work placement experience in a rural setting, you have the chance to make a positive contribution to essential community based legal services, and to consider working in rural Australia after admission.
In order to qualify for this project, you need to meet four criteria:
- You are enrolled in a Practical Legal Training course or are doing the placement as part of an integrated law course.
- You are committed to accepting a regional, rural or remote placement when it is offered.
- You are able to self fund the placement. The placements are voluntary and unpaid. You will need to provide your own travel and accommodation. The project staff will work with you to identify funding options and do what they can to provide information to you about travel and accommodation. (If you are a student at the ANU Legal Workshop or live in South Australia, there may be funding available to off set these costs.)
- You have a genuine interest in working in a legal assistance service in rural Australia.
Contact DetailsHelen McGowan
National RRR Co ordinator
National Association of Community Legal Centres
Mobile: 0417 245 710
Useful links and resources
For more information about the need for more RRR lawyers visit the Research Results page on the RRRLaw website
For general information, regional profiles and testimonials visit the RRRLaw website
For informaion on doing your PLT placement in a rural, regional or remote CLC visit the Practical Legal Training in Regional, Rural and Remote Australia page on the RRRLaw website.
Professional support networks
Country Law Associations
For information on Country Law Association visit the Country Law Associations page on the Law Institute of Victoria website
The Law Institute of Victoria's Regional and Suburban Young Lawyers Committee arranges regular activities to give new lawyers working across Victoria an opportunity to make friends, develop professional contacts and have fun. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.