“A very special community”: five decades of Monash Law Clinics

“A very special community”: five decades of Monash Law Clinics

Over the past five decades, Monash Law Clinics has continued to expand and evolve, but remains as committed as ever to affording the community access to justice.

Monash Law Clinics has a long history.

During the 1970s, the Monash Legal Service offered legal advice to Monash University students from a room in the Law School Building. In 1979, the Service shifted its focus outwards, expanding its operations to include the provision of legal services to the wider community. This shift birthed the Professional Legal Practice course, giving law students the opportunity to gain invaluable legal experience while serving their local community.

The Monash Oakleigh Legal Service (MOLS), as it was then known, was formally incorporated in 1983. In 2018, MOLS was rebranded as Monash Law Clinics.

Monash Law Clinics currently operates across two sites: Clayton and Melbourne. The Clayton premises was officially opened in 1998, while the Melbourne site, opened in 2018, is set in the heart of the judicial precinct, enabling students to work collaboratively with other Community Legal Centres and the Courts.

An invaluable learning opportunity

What is it that makes Monash Law Clinics unique?

“Students are not paralegals or assistants to the supervising lawyers, but an extension of a practicing lawyer,” explains Jennifer Lindstrom, Practice Manager of Monash Law Clinics Melbourne. “Students have the privilege to be part of each client's journey in navigating through their legal issues and hopefully make a positive difference in their lives.”

Before returning to Monash as a leader of the Professional Practice program, Jennifer undertook the program as a student. “Professional Practice ignited my passion for community legal practice,” she says. “I wasn't sure which area of law I wanted to practice in, and Professional Practice gave me so much insight into how community practice can help others and advocate for those who can't do so for themselves.”

This sentiment is widely shared amongst the alumni community. “My time at Monash Law Clinics instilled in me a passion for community-based work, ultimately leading me to a family violence community legal centre providing culturally safe, sensitive, and accessible services to indigenous women,” says Ffion Gorman, who completed the Professional Practice program in 2020.

Reflecting on her return to Monash Law Clinics, Jennifer shares the following:

“I wouldn't be the lawyer I am today without my mentors from the clinical program. I wanted to give back to the future generation of students and do the same for them, helping them find a fulfilling pathway at the end of their journey through law school. This journey can be a tough and isolating one, and Clinic gives people a safe space to learn about who they are and the type of lawyer they want to be. I believe in clinical legal education and how it can empower students to reach their potential. Our clinical model means that each lawyer can do so much more with the help of talented future lawyers.”

Jennifer also recognises the ongoing support of the alumni and wider legal communities in the success of the Clinics. “The profession is extremely generous to our students as we have a great reputation in the sector. So many clinic students have gone before us and many are leaders in the industry,” she says. “Students become a part of a very special community.”

Jennifer Lindstrom with students at the Monash Law Clinics

A global perspective

In addition to the community-centric Professional Practice program, Monash Law Clinics now incorporates numerous in-house clinics, such as the Climate Justice Clinic, TradeLab, and Modern Slavery Clinic, each of which targets various contemporary challenges facing today’s world, extending Monash University’s commitment to providing access to justice beyond Australia.

One of these clinics – the Eleos Anti-Death Penalty Clinic (ADPC) – celebrated its three-year anniversary last month. The ADPC gives students the opportunity to engage with partner NGOs and lawyers across the Asia-Pacific region and render invaluable assistance in both death row casework and anti-death penalty advocacy.

Since its inception in July 2018, more than 110 undergraduate and postgraduate students have completed a clinical placement at the ADPC, under the guidance of Founder and Manager Sara Kowal. “My hope is that the experience of creating meaningful impact emboldens our students to use their law degrees in innovative ways, ensuring that the most vulnerable voices are amplified and protected”, she says.

Sara Kowal with a student at the Eleos Anti-Death Penalty Clinic

An enduring legacy

From its humble beginnings in the 1970s, Monash Law Clinics has undergone a series of changes. Despite these facelifts, however, Monash Law Clinics remains at its core unchanged. Rachel Spencer, Director of Monash Law Clinics, says that although Monash Law Clinics has evolved significantly over the years, “its fundamental mission remains the same: to facilitate access to justice for vulnerable members of the community – both locally and globally – and to provide students with the opportunity to learn what it means to be a lawyer through 'hands on' experience and structured reflection on their own personal and professional development.”

As society continues to evolve, so must Monash Law Clinics. “In an unpredictable world, and faced with an ever-evolving suite of potential careers now facing law graduates, my hope for the future of Monash Law Clinics is that we provide cutting-edge experiences for our students that combine the use of technology with the development of emotional intelligence that is so critical for the global legal professional,” says Rachel. “I hope that we can expand our services as needed to accommodate the needs of clients, for many of whom, access to legal advice and information is becoming increasingly complex and challenging.”

Over the past decades, Monash Law Clinics has demonstrated an unswerving commitment to affording the community access to justice while equipping future lawyers with an unparalleled and invaluable learning experience. From former student to incumbent Practice Manager, Jennifer Lindstrom has witnessed the evolution of Monash Law Clinics first-hand, and shares her hopes for its future:

“I hope that we continue to remember the heart of what a community legal centre is all about, and continue to make a positive contribution to the sector. I hope our students will find their passion, their purpose and be part of bigger movements for making our community a better place. I hope to continue to build a program that will inspire and encourage future generations of lawyers to become advocates for those who can't otherwise advocate for themselves.”

Learn more about Clinical Legal Education at Monash Law.