Interview #5: Sandy Cho, Ian Ahn & John Song

Interview #5: Sandy Cho, Ian Ahn & John Song

16 January 2023

Interview #5 – Sandy Cho, Ian Ahn & John Song

The Korean Community Legal Service provides free legal advice to members of the Korean and Korean-Australian community who are unable to easily access legal services.

Three volunteer solicitors from KCLS – Sandy Cho, Ian Ahn and John Song – spoke to Olivia Roney about considering the cultural context of their clients , how growing up in a migrant family has influenced their volunteering choices, and why they volunteer in addition to their day to day practice.

From left to right: Sandy Cho, Ian Ahn, John Song

OLIVIA: Could you tell me a bit about the Korean Community Legal Service and the services that you provide?

SANDY: The Korean Community Legal Centre (KCLS) was first established in May 2011 by our co-founders, Ken Hong, Christina Choi, and Chris Yoo. They realised the need for a more accessible legal service for the Korean and Korean-Australian community. Barriers they identified included limited information about free legal services, language barriers, cost of private legal services, and cultural differences.

The primary focus of KCLS is to provide free legal advice to members of the Korean and Korean-Australian community who are unable to gain access to private legal services. We conduct once a month in-person and telephone-based advice services to clients – not only in Sydney, but also interstate. Our services are provided with the support of the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea. Our service areas include disputes, immigration, employment law (for example, issues with unpaid wages), and some minor criminal matters. We service around eighty to one hundred clients per year, with a slight decline last year due to Covid.

OLIVIA: You mentioned cultural differences being a big barrier to people accessing legal services. What are some of those challenges when you’re assisting clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and how do you address them?

IAN: KCLS is a Korean-oriented organisation. All our current volunteer lawyers speak Korean, at least conversationally. Many of our clients are Korean nationals, or have Korean background. In turn, we are often required to consider the cultural context of factual circumstances and I often find this isn’t always easy.

It is well known that any formal proceeding can get expensive very quickly, yet very time consuming to see it going anywhere, so if possible, we encourage our clients to engage in ADR to save cost, time, stress, and indeed their effort.

But when it comes to negotiation, we usually find that culture and human elements play a significant role. For example, if there is a dispute between two Korean people, factors like age can be an important consideration for us, in thinking about how to best encourage the other party to come forward for a settlement talk. In contrast, if say a client of ours is having difficulty communicating with the other party because of language barrier, difficulty arising out of cultural differences, or at times both – then a common consideration for us would become how our client’s position can be best articulated. It is about seeing that broader context of what our clients are going through and understanding exactly where their frustration is coming from. I’d say that is one of the biggest challenges.

OLIVIA: John, how did you start volunteering with KCLS?

JOHN: Given that I have a legal background and quite involved in the Korean community generally, it made sense to be part of the Korean Community Legal Centre. At first, I had this huge confidence issue of whether I could capably advise or consult someone in Korean. And it’s been going okay – I’m still surviving, I’m still doing it!

 

The work means a lot to me. My family and I immigrated here nearly thirty years ago. We’ve been in various situations where something was wrong and legal support wasn’t there. Like most migrant families, those situations were quite common. There’s a world out there that doesn’t really connect with your own, especially if you can’t speak the language of the people that are supposed to help you. So, it means something to me to be able to stand in that gap.

OLIVIA: What have been some key learnings for you?

JOHN: Well firstly the technical skills—before each consultation we touch base with the supervising lawyer to check that our advice is accurate. There’s a learning curve in that respect because the matters that I consult on through KCLS are quite different to my usual practice.

But more than that, I think it’s also a reminder of the day-to-day difficulties of someone adjusting to a foreign land, which are things I had forgotten about. Just staying connected with that common struggle is something that I learn and gain from more than the technical skills.

OLIVIA: Sandy, what led you to volunteer with KCLS?

SANDY: I started when I was a student volunteer at university. At the time, I was already volunteering at the Redfern Legal Centre, and working there made me realise the gaps in the system –  If many people in the Australian community are finding it difficult to obtain proper legal advice and find a service that can give them that advice, what would it be like for members of the Korean and Korean-Australian community who may not speak English? I started to wonder about what sort of difficulties they would be facing. So, I reached out to my fellow Korean-Australian colleagues at university and one of them informed me about KCLS. I reached out, joined as a student volunteer, and I’ve been continuing ever since.

OLIVIA: On that theme, how can students and young practicing lawyers get involved?

SANDY: It’s a very simple process. We normally post advertisements on student Facebook groups and ask for a copy of CV and a brief description of why they want to join the KCLS. This is just to check that their values and understanding of the system aligns with what we want to deliver to clients. Everyone is welcome to apply.

OLIVIA: Ian, what led you to volunteer with KCLS?

IAN: My graduate role was in personal injury law on the plaintiff side where I acted for a number of Korean speaking clients who were injured in one way or another, and I found this quite fulfilling. With that in mind, I started with KCLS and found I relate to many of the problems clients encounter, just coming from a migrant family myself.

OLIVIA: What advice do you have for young lawyers wanting to be involved in community legal centres and pro bono work?

IAN: As part of my law degree, I took an elective where a group of students went on a placement to Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service, a clinic run by the University of Adelaide. I found that very helpful throughout my university days and when I look back now, that’s probably one of those times where I had so much fun and learnt so much. I believe this is quite commonly offered across many unis, so keep an eye out!

SANDY: I practice mainly commercial and corporate law, so there is little sense, if at all, of giving back to the community. For young lawyers and students, I would strongly encourage them to get involved with community legal centres, as it provides a channel where you can give back to the community.

JOHN: In terms of how you can get started, I think start small. Try volunteering once a month. It’s low commitment, and it’s a good break in your day-to-day practice or study. In terms of practical advice—I am also involved with the Marrickville Legal Centre, so depending on where you live, you can just hit up your nearest community legal centre and see if they need help.

Another thing to consider is taking on the challenge. Like I said, before I started volunteering with KCLS, I had some hesitation, thinking, do I have the skills to do this? Not just in terms of my Korean fluency, but also the fact that I am mostly doing civil matters with the KCLS, whereas my day-to-day practice is in criminal law. So backing yourself and having that confidence in knowing that you can still make a valuable practical contribution in someone’s life if you prepare for it. There is a good reward in the efforts that you put in. You just have to start somewhere!

Interested in volunteering with KCLS? Contact the team here.

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Sandy works in commercial & corporate practice at H & H Lawyers, dealing with major Korean Australian companies as well as domestic clients. In her student days, Sandy volunteered as a summer-intensive volunteer at the Redfern Legal Centre (2020) and also as a student volunteer at the at the Korean Community Legal Service (KCLS) since 2019. She now serves at KCLS as the Student Volunteer Coordinator at The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea.

Ian works in the assurance practice at PwC Australia, with a focus on banking regulations. Outside work, he puts his consultant hat aside and assists clients at KCLS as a volunteer solicitor. In 2018, Ian completed a placement at the Adelaide Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service facilitated by the University of Adelaide as part of his law degree. Since then, Ian has been an advocate for the importance of access to justice and continues to play a role to date.

John is a Senior Federal Prosecutor for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. Prior to that he worked as a solicitor for the Aboriginal Legal Service in regional NSW, and in private practice in Sydney. John has been volunteering with the KCLS since 2021 and is also a volunteer lawyer with the Marrickville Legal Centre. Fitness, coffee, and hip hop enthusiast, you might spot him power walking to the Sydney Downing Centre, armed with his coffee and AirPods.

Interview #4: Allison Caputo

Interview #4: Allison Caputo

8 December 2022

Interview #4 – Allison Caputo

Allison is Practice Director of Client Advice at Women’s Legal Service Queensland. Prior to joining WLSQ, Allison was in private practice as a family lawyer for over 15 years practicing in Sydney, the Gold Coast and Brisbane. Allison is a Queensland Law Society Accredited Specialist in family law and has a Master of Applied Law (Family) from the College of Law. Allison joined the Queensland Law Society as a Councillor in 2019 and continues in this role. As part of her role on QLS Council, she is a member of the Family Law Policy committee and Chair of the Committee of Management.

Allison spoke to Kaylee about what career progression is like in a CLC, the challenges of resuming in-person services post-COVID, and her big decision to leave private practice.  

 

 

KAYLEE: Could you tell me about the Women’s Legal Service Queensland and the services you provide?

ALLISON: I am Practice Director (Client Advice) at Women’s Legal Service Queensland (WLSQ).  I come from a lengthy career in private practice and started at WLSQ earlier this year.

WLSQ has three offices; our primary office is in Annerley and we have offices in Caboolture and on the Gold Coast. Our practice areas are specialised – we focus on family law, domestic violence, and care and protection matters.  We also have a small team working in the Counselling Notes Protect program in the criminal law space. 

Other services at WLSQ include our Domestic Violence Unit, our Health Justice Partnership Team, our Temporary Visa Pilot Program and our Financial Abuse Prevention Unit.

We are fortunate to have a very experienced social work team. If we identify a client as needing particular social support services, we have our own social workers that we can refer our clients to.

WLSQ fundraising team at Women Lawyers Association of Queensland Awards (WLAQ) event

KAYLEE: Why did you decide to work with the Women’s Legal Service?

ALLISON: I worked at the Family Court of Australia for many years at the beginning of my career. I then spent the last 14 years in private practice, both on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, always working in family law. I used to volunteer at Women’s Legal Service once a month on a Wednesday evening, and provide advice to clients.

It was a big decision to leave private practice. I got to a point where I wanted to use my skills and experience to help the more vulnerable clients and women in the community. I felt that I was able to do that better here than in private practice.

The biggest reason was just wanting a change in day-to-day practice. I wanted to use my skills in a way that didn’t cost the client.

In private practice, it was satisfying to act for clients and get them a good result, but it was very expensive to get there. I always felt this part of me that said, “it just shouldn’t cost as much as it does to get access to a result.”

I’m currently in a management role at the WLSQ, so I’m not dealing with clients day-to-day, even though I love it when I get the opportunity to do so.

KAYLEE: What does a typical day of work look like for you?

ALLISON: My days are quite varied.  As Practice Director I am responsible for how my team delivers certain services to clients, so I am involved in recruitment, training and staff movements within the team.  I am ultimately responsible for ensuring that the team meets service delivery obligations under our funding contracts.  That means ensuring that delivery of services is both client focused and efficient.  However being a CLC where staffing resources are our biggest asset and our biggest challenge, I might have to jump on the phone and provide advice to a client if required.  I enjoy being involved in community legal education and as the pro bono coordinator for WLSQ, I am often speaking to stakeholders that want to work with WLSQ to assist us to deliver our services.

KAYLEE: Do you get a lot of interest from law firms around the city about helping out?

ALLISON: We are fortunate to have very strong relationships with our pro bono partners which have been developed over many years.  That support includes event participation and sponsorship, volunteering, grants, raising awareness about domestic and family violence and through the donation of goods. Their support assists us to deliver our services to vulnerable women.  It was through the assistance of our pro bono partners that we were able to launch the Helpline back in 2015.

Allison at Bridge to Brisbane fun run with the WLSQ team and partner from Minter Ellison

We have a wide network of solicitors in private practice who volunteer their time to provide legal advice to our clients.  We could not reach as many women as we do without their support.

I would love to see more family law firms get involved in pro bono work and in particular, taking direct client referrals for our most vulnerable clients.  There are still many clients who need more complex legal advice or representation that are not entitled to a grant of aid and who have no capacity to pay a private lawyer.

KAYLEE: What are some of the challenges facing the Women’s Legal Service Queensland?

ALLISON: One of the challenges for us post-COVID was being back in-person.  Pre-COVID we held a drop-in clinic twice a week where women could turn up at the door, and could obtain legal advice that night with a volunteer lawyer. It’s been a challenge getting our volunteer lawyers to come back in person rather than delivering advice by telephone. We resumed our drop in clinic in October on Monday nights, and aim to build this up once the word gets out.

I think the other challenge that we face at WLSQ, is supporting our staff through the impact of vicarious trauma. The complexity of domestic violence that you’re dealing with at WLSQ is high. You have to be aware that you’re supporting your staff in that space.

Another challenge is ensuring that your professional staff feel they are getting the necessary professional training and challenges they need. The reality of CLCs versus private practice is that you’re not doing as much court work.  So, making sure that there are good professional pathways for lawyers so they want to work here and remain working here as well.  Feeling professionally fulfilled, is the way that I would describe it.

KAYLEE: What is the career progression like in a CLC?

ALLISON: I find that solicitors who are attracted to work at WLSQ are those that really want to help vulnerable clients but may also want to balance work with other responsibilities. It’s a good mix of being able to do client work but without some of the more challenging parts of private practice.  What I have observed is that the skills that you get in certain areas here are still in demand in private practice.

In terms of career progression, we’ve got a lot of people at the paralegal stage. We get a lot of volunteers that are law students. Then we’ve got a gap at that grad or early solicitor role because we require our advice solicitors to be at least 3 years post admission. We do expect a lot from our solicitors in terms of their knowledge, because they could get any question about family law, child protect, child support, property, parenting, when someone rings our Helpline.

There’s an opportunity for senior solicitors here to do more casework and advocacy. We have a few senior solicitors who  have the additional responsibilities of  supervision, recruitment, training of staff.  It depends on where you’re at in your career, but I think there’s a good opportunity to get really skilled, particularly in the DV and family law parenting space here.

KAYLEE: What advice do you have for young professionals wanting to be involved in community legal centres and pro bono work? 

ALLISON: Always look for volunteering opportunities. If you’re studying and want some volunteering experience, we have opportunities in the paralegal space to be involved in duty lawyer work. We send at least two paralegals out to every duty lawyer that we have, and that covers four days a week across three courts.

If you are already a qualified lawyer, we have our volunteer advice team and we always need more. If we do our drop-in clinics twice a week, that requires probably four or five private lawyers to be in here giving advice on each night. So if you’re interested as a qualified lawyer to provide advice to our clients there’s always opportunities, and we will move forward with a hybrid role where you can provide advice by phone or you can come in and volunteer here.

If your firm has a pro bono team, get involved! Firms are always looking for staff to get involved in pro bono work. Particularly in big firms, there are some really awesome opportunities in the pro bono space to get involved. Or if you work in a smaller firm, you could be the champion for pro bono. The benefits are both for staff and for clients. It’s not difficult to measure. I think it always makes people feel good to know they’ve helped someone and it didn’t cost the client any money.

Interview #3: Austin Irwin

Interview #3: Austin Irwin

24 November 2022

Interview #3 – Austin Irwin

Austin is currently an Associate at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. He was a student intern at the Australian Pro Bono Centre from June to August 2022, and completed his Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts (Philosophy) at UNSW. During his degree, Austin also undertook internships at the UNSW Australian Human Rights Institute, Kingsford Legal Centre, Grata Fund and the Refugee Advice & Casework Service.

 

In this interview, Austin talks about how he found internships during his studies, gaining practical experience volunteering at community legal centres, and dealing with the temptation to compare yourself to others.

Austin Irwin

How did you find your internship opportunities? 

I developed an interest in gaining experience in public interest legal work around about my second year of university, so from then on I periodically monitored websites that I knew would post relevant positions. 

The two main sources for internship opportunities I used were my university law faculty’s jobs board and Social Justice Opportunities. The former was helpful as it included internships unique to my university. The latter was helpful as it focussed on social justice roles – and I felt like I was interested in nearly every position!

 

What are some highlights from your internships?  

I will always remember meeting with people seeking asylum at outreach clinics run by the Refugee Advice & Casework Service. Listening to the stories of people in really distressing circumstances was tiring, eye-opening and rewarding. 

Interning at the Kingsford Legal Centre was thoroughly enjoyable, and not just because it gave me course credit! KLC offered a wide variety of interesting work (discrimination, employment and domestic violence law to name a few) with a really supportive staff team. 

And of course, stepping behind the scenes with the Australian Pro Bono Centre was a highlight. I learnt a lot about the pro bono sector in Australia and saw the big impact lawyers can have in the community.  

 

Looking back, what do you wish you would have known starting law school?

This is fairly common to most university degrees, but it’s very easy to compare yourself to others and to feel deficient or behind – whether it be with regards to marks, professional experience or extracurriculars.

I wish I knew (and believed) from the start that we’re not defined by our CVs – it would have helped with much anxiety and let me make academic and professional choices with less regard for what I thought other people would think of me.

I wish I knew (and believed) from the start that we’re not defined by our CVs – it would have helped with much anxiety and let me make academic and professional choices with less regard for what I thought other people would think of me.

But bringing it back to internships, I think it would personally have given me great relief to know that I would find working and practically getting involved in the law a lot more enjoyable than studying law.  

 

What are the next steps for you post university? 

I’ve been fortunate enough to start working for a tribunal as an Associate, so I will be in that role for the next while post-graduation. I’m not sure what will happen after that, but it’s been great so far to work in roles that serve the public, so I intend to continue doing that in the future.  

Interview #2: Raquel Dos Santos

Interview #2: Raquel Dos Santos

9 November 2022

Interview #2 – Raquel Dos Santos

Raquel has dedicated most of her professional life to exploring how legal services can increase access to justice and address system-level issues to improve the justice sector. Before joining Everyday Justice, Raquel worked on commercial and pro bono matters at Allens, and in not-for-profit organisations, Justice Connect and LawRight, leading court-based services in a range of jurisdictions in QLD, VIC, NSW, the ACT and TAS. Raquel has a background in business management, has completed post graduate studies in innovation and design thinking, and holds legal qualifications in Australia and Brazil, where she started her legal career in the public service.

Raquel spoke to Olivia Roney about the case that first inspired her to work in social justice, being a mentor to students and young practitioners, and why pro bono work ‘is chicken soup for the soul’.

OLIVIA: Raquel, tell us about the work that you do with Everyday Justice.

RAQUEL: Everyday Justice is a charitable law firm launched in 2021as a philanthropic initiative of Mills Oakley. We are committed to providing accessible legal services on a national scale to the Australian missing middle. We assist clients with everyday civil law problems like employment, housing, debt, financial abuse, and with matters we consider to be in the public interest. Everyday Justice operates a national internship program in partnership with the College of Law, and we are proud to offer a supportive environment for law graduates and young practitioners to practice in social justice law. We acknowledge our wonderful volunteers around Australia working towards our common goal of creating a more accessible and fairer legal system for the missing middle.  

OLIVIA: How did you first get involved in social justice work?

RAQUEL: Through clinical legal education when I completed my first law degree in Brazil. At the legal clinic attached to our university we met a woman pregnant with a foetus with severe anencephaly. That meant her baby was going to be born without a brain and would only survive for a couple of hours. Our client needed help to apply to the court for an order to terminate the pregnancy. She was really distressed because she didn’t want to go through the trauma of having a funeral for her baby just days after it was born.

My peer and I worked hard with a law professor to develop a legal strategy and find a pro bono expert. It was a novelty case at that time in Brazil, and the first application of that type in our State. I recall one afternoon our professor told us that the Judge hearing our application wanted to see us in his chambers. It was nerve racking – two law students walking into a Judge’s chambers – we didn’t know what to expect. The Judge told us informally that he was impressed by how we briefed the medical expert, and that we had “dropped a hot potato on his lap” so he needed some time to consider the case.

By the time that the court granted an order to terminate our client’s pregnancy, she was about six months pregnant. Our client had decided that she was going to give birth to the baby and donate the baby’s organs, which was a dignified way of dealing with a traumatic situation. In the end, we helped create a legal precedent to help other women in similar situations.

It was a great experience to work at the legal clinic helping the local community. I understood very early that pro bono was always going to be a part of my legal career, and I would always create space for public interest matters.

OLIVIA: From there, how did you get to be at Everyday Justice?

RAQUEL: My legal career has not been a linear journey but has surely been an interesting one. Initially I worked for a State Supreme Court in Brazil executing court orders and preparing reports for a pool of Judges in civil law proceedings. I was very young then, and had a lot of responsibility in that role, which helped me develop very quickly. After I immigrated to Australia, I worked in business development and other areas for years, because I was not yet admitted to practice law here. I then completed a Juris Doctor and joined Allens for about four years. It was a great experience to work at a top tier firm with such a strong pro bono culture. I ended up coordinating the Allens pro bono practice in Brisbane and working in really interesting pro bono and commercial matters. 

In 2014 I left Allens to join the not-for-profit sector, first working at LawRight and then joining Justice Connect in 2018. I have since led a range of court-based programs designed to support people trying to access the justice system with little or no legal help. I feel privileged to have worked with so many stakeholders in the pro bono and community sectors, the Judiciary, Governments, institutional and consultant researchers, and to have contributed to end-to-end legal service design, delivery and evaluations over these years. I think that I had a much broader exposure to the law and our legal system, than I would have if I only worked in private practice.

I took 6 months off to travel after Melbourne lockdowns, and early this year I was in Brazil about to go on a survival camp in the Amazon Forest when Luke Geary and Amy Burton invited me to apply for the acting Managing Lawyer role at Everyday Justice. I knew straight away that this role was very aligned with my skills, experiences, and interests, and I am very happy to be able to cover for Amy while she is on parental leave. Everyday Justice is essentially the pro bono arm of Mills Oakley, and it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to lead such a strong pro bono practice and team at Everyday Justice.

OLIVIA: In those experiences and where you are now, how do you talk about your “why” as a social justice practitioner? 

RAQUEL: I have had excellent mentors and have been particularly inspired by resilient and resourceful women. I don’t come from privilege. So, I know how strong support networks in our families and communities can make all the difference in someone’s life. Whether I practiced law in an international top tier firm, or in a ‘grass roots’ local community project, I also always relied on my lived experience – as a woman, immigrant, worker, tenant, etc – for a deeper understanding of the law and of my role as a social justice practitioner.  

I am very grateful for having started my legal career in Australia in a strong commercial practice, but I always knew that it was just not enough for me. There was something missing for me in those purely commercial matters. Pro bono work was the part of my work that I enjoyed the most, so I decided to dedicate myself full-time to pro bono and community projects. I was also always interested in how to design, set up and evaluate legal services, and wanted to have a broad area of practice. I now feel like I can meaningfully contribute to a range of legal practice areas and legal research and design projects.

OLIVIA: Turning then to Everyday Justice, can you describe a typical day, if there is one?

RAQUEL: A typical day will usually involve a mix of legal practice supervision, stakeholder engagement, planning and progressing priority projects, and as in any leadership role, finding and supporting capabilities in people. I might start my day by discussing with lawyers and interns the conduct of legal matters that we are working on, or will accept, and delegating and reviewing legal work. I also have my own load of client work, legal files to progress and supervise. I enjoy mentoring Law Interns and will supervise a few at any given time. I love seeing legal graduates progressing into confident well-rounded lawyers.

I might then need to respond to those types of issues that a managing lawyer will grapple with to support an effective team — for example, making informed legal practice decisions, considering potential conflicts of interest, signing correspondence, analysing data and reporting on our pro bono practice internally and externally, etc. A managing lawyer or principal lawyer usually has so many competing priorities, that it’s essential to have good task and project management tools in place, and to carve out space to proactively plan and progress projects.  I am also privileged to work directly with the Everyday Justice Board, lifting our gaze and building a vision for the future. Currently, we are starting a legal design project to consider how Everyday Justice might enable participation of corporate and government lawyers in our legal practice. We are committed to creating a pro bono scheme that is specifically designed for in-house legal teams.

OLIVIA: What have been other major learnings from your work with Everyday Justice?

RAQUEL: Everyday Justice is a charity with two very specific objectives: to provide access to justice for the missing middle, and to advance education. I joined Everyday Justice not long ago, in July of 2022, and I quickly learned that Everyday Justice’s objectives and service delivery model are strategically designed to better enable the participation of two key user groups in the legal system: individuals in the Australian missing middle, and the legal profession.

Our partnership with the College of Law helps us to operate a national training program for law graduates and PLT students interested in practising social justice law. Interns at Everyday Justice are either very new or future members of the legal profession, so we play a critical role in supporting young practitioners to better understand the needs and the capabilities of the missing middle. We hope that young practitioners will carry these insights with them to inform future professional experiences.

OLIVIA: What’s your advice for young legal practitioners wanting to get involved in community legal centres and pro bono work?

To be a great legal professional, whether you are in private, community or government practice, it is not sufficient to be technically brilliant. You need to be emotionally intelligent and continuously work on soft skills also. Being involved in community legal centres and pro bono work can help us develop ourselves as lawyers and to expand our networks. And we do all that while we are doing meaningful work.  

Someone said to me once that pro bono work is like chicken soup for the soul. And it really is. When we find organisations that give us opportunities to practice social justice law in a supportive way, it can be a transformative and wonderful experience.

It’s also important to remember that the legal profession can be very demanding. We need to proactively manage our mental health and set healthy boundaries, both at work and in our personal lives, so that we can make pro bono a lifelong contribution. It’s not a sprint, it’s a long race.

Finally, when you ‘make it’ in your legal career, there will come a time when you can pay it forward and create pro bono opportunities for younger practitioners. If you do, you might find  very satisfying to inspire others to learn about the power of pro bono, not only for their clients, but for their own professional and human development.

OLIVIA: What are the ways students can get involved in Everyday Justice?

Internship opportunities and the application link are published on Everyday Justice’s website. We always welcome passionate and dedicated PLT students and young lawyers who want to learn and make a difference.

Interview #1: Ying Yi Lim

Interview #1: Ying Yi Lim

25 October 2022

Interview #1 – Ying Yi Lim

Ying Yi Lim is currently a graduate lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF) working in Employment & Labour. As part of her graduate rotation, she completed a pro bono secondment at the Australian Pro Bono Centre as well as at the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre (IARC).

Ying Yi is passionate about exploring how law and development work can address human rights issues. She is the author of the book chapter “Redressing Native Land Grabs: Finding a State Fiduciary Duty to Consult its Indigenous People in Sarawak, Malaysia” in Law and Justice in Malaysia – 2020 and Beyond. As a university student, Ying Yi volunteered and engaged in various community legal centre, legal and advocacy work.

Ying Yi holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and Science from the University of Sydney.

Ying Yi spoke to Kaylee Neil about choosing an employer, weaving social justice into your career as an early career lawyer and how opportunities can come from unexpected places.

Kaylee Neil (pictured left), communications volunteer at the Australian Pro Bono Centre, interviewing Ying Yi Lim (Lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright)

KAYLEE: How did you become involved in social justice through your work?

YING YI: When applying for graduate jobs, I looked out for firms actively involved in pro bono work and was fortunate enough to be accepted at Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF). Many pro bono opportunities are available in NRF, even if you are not working directly in the pro bono team. As a rotating graduate, I worked on pro bono matters referred from Legal Aid in the Projects & Construction team, and provided pro bono assistance to charities in the Employment & Labour team. There were also opportunities to be involved in pro bono clinics assisting refugees and people experiencing homelessness organised in partnership with community legal centres (CLCs).

As part of my full-time graduate rotation in the pro bono team, I was seconded to the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre (IARC) and the Australian Pro Bono Centre (APBC). At IARC, I mostly worked on the Afghan Evacuees project. We assisted clients who were evacuated from Afghanistan by the Australian government after the Taliban takeover – specifically with the process of applying for a permanent humanitarian visa. I also delivered general advice for other clients, including those on partner visas who have experienced family and domestic violence, migrant workers facing skilled visa issues, and other clients with questions about protection and humanitarian visas or family visas.

At the APBC, I coordinated the refresh of the Australian Pro Bono Manual, which guides lawyers on how to run a pro bono practice. I edited chapters reviewed by pro bono teams on a variety of important topics ranging from how to best manage a pro bono practice, to how to work with clients of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. I also assisted with the publication of Pro Bono Voco, a biannual magazine which highlights and celebrates the work of the Australian pro bono community. Working with the APBC has opened my eyes to the variety of ways pro bono work is carried out and coordinated.

Left: Ying Yi with the Australian Pro Bono Centre (APBC) at the APBC’s 20th Anniversary Event
Right
: Ying Yi with the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre (
IARC) on Wear It Purple day. 

KAYLEE: Did you draw on any prior experiences to help you during your secondments?

As a law student, I volunteered at the front desk of Marrickville Legal Centre, which gave me a great introduction to how CLCs work. I also completed an internship at the Sydney Institute of Criminology under the supervision of Dr Louise Boon-Kuo, researching racial profiling in airport policing. It was under Dr Boon-Kuo’s mentorship that my interest in social justice grew.

I then completed an honours thesis on Indigenous land rights in Malaysia under the supervision of Professor Salim Farrar. Through writing my thesis, I not only developed strong research and writing skills, but also began learning to think about human rights issues as impacted by legal, historical and socio-economic factors in a way that has been useful for my work at the APBC. When I started working at NRF, I was trained in technical legal skills which I have brought into my work as a secondee at IARC, including in legal drafting, research and working with clients through interpreters.

Surprisingly, I also drew a lot from experiences unrelated to law. For example, the project management skills I found useful as a secondee at the APBC were developed during my time as a president of the Sydney University Association of Malaysian Students.

 

KAYLEE: What have you learnt from your pro bono secondments that you will take into your career?

YING YI: The secondments allowed me to be integrated with each organisation and to develop new perspectives from their day-to-day operations and direct dealings with clients. Just to name a few of these perspectives, during my secondment at IARC, I sometimes had to advise clients that there were no visa options for them. This made me understand that these difficult conversations form part of the reality of work at CLCs, and more generally, as a lawyer. At the APBC, I built an understanding of how the Australian pro bono field in Australia has developed over the past decades. This allowed me to explore the areas in which the field of pro bono and social justice work can keep growing.

There are a lot of skills I have learned during my secondments that I will bring back to NRF. Being able to have autonomy and carriage over a variety of client matters at IARC has taught me a lot about legal research, problem solving, drafting and client management. At the APBC, I learnt how to take autonomy over a project, and of how to communicate with others within that framework more confidently.

I want to incorporate pro bono work into my career going forward. I’ll keep trying to put my hand up for whatever interests me and get involved. I would also love to continue relationships with the places to which I am currently seconded and provide support to them where I can.

 

KAYLEE: What advice would you have given yourself when you were in law school?

YING YI: I have a very specific answer – which is that I would tell myself to study development economics and migration law because those are areas in which I have recently become interested but did not study. That being said, like many areas of legal practice, it is possible to learn ‘on the job’.

More generally, I would tell myself to take up whatever opportunities come my way. When I started as an idealistic law student, I hoped to one day contribute to issues surrounding working refugees or on Malaysian societal and human rights. Now, I have done this, both through my IARC secondment and my honours thesis. This gives me room to say, “Hey, that dream was achievable! What else do I want to do?” I think opportunities come from a lot of unexpected places. If I hadn’t done the Institute of Criminology internship, I wouldn’t have done my honours thesis, and then I probably wouldn’t have ended up getting a job at NRF, or ended up at the APBC or at IARC.

Just take any opportunity that comes your way. Let your interests guide you.