Public Interest Law Careers Guide - Melissa Hardham Testimonial
Public Interest lawyer: Melissa Hardham
Organisation: First Step Legal Service
Melissa Hardham has worked extensively as a criminal lawyer. From 1996 Melissa worked as an in-house advocate at the Office of David Grace QC predominately in the appellate jurisdictions. In 2000 she was tasked with the implementation and operation of a pro bono human rights and anti-discrimination legal service within a disability support program, DEAC. In 2003 Melissa returned to the Office of David Grace QC for a further 5 years until she resigned in 2008 to focus on the implementation and operation of the First Step Legal Service, a pro bono criminal law service, within the First Step Program. Melissa currently holds the role of Indigenous Engagement Manager with the Toll Group.
She is also Director of the First Step Legal Service. Further, Melissa is a member of the Australian Advocacy Health Alliance Steering Committee.
Law: where did you start?
Grace Warren Hale, Criminal Law
What was your pathway into Public Interest Law?
Volunteering at the St Kilda Legal Service.
Do you practise a mixture of commercial and Public Interest Law, and if so, how do you juggle the two?
What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career?
Funding and time allocation to worthwhile causes and clients.
How did you deal with these challenges?
Maintain time effectiveness and prioritise the work.
What advice do you have for Law students and lawyers wanting to pursue a career path focuses on positive social change?
Remain true to your personal and professional motivations and goals. Whilst financial considerations are important, inspiration and self-actualisation usually comes from a deeper more intuitive place.
Many people pursuing careers in law in Australia have come from privilege and opportunity; we have an obligation as global citizens to ensure that we share these skills and resources to enhance fairness and equality.
What do you find most rewarding in your work?
The stories of my clients, and their capacity to overcome disadvantage and personal challenges.