Colin Biggers & Paisley Pro Bono Graduate Program

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February 01,2021
Colin Biggers & Paisley Pro Bono Graduate Program
July 2020- January 2021

In this article, I recount my time in Colin Biggers & Paisley pro bono team as a graduate.

In March 2020, I joined the Colin Biggers & Paisley Graduate program, which consists of three five-month rotations through the various legal practice groups.

Having already been with Colin Biggers & Paisley for close to two years as a paralegal in the property team prior to commencing my graduate role, I was both excited and nervous to get to know the different practice groups and learn more about different areas of our commercial practice.

Following my first rotation, Colin Biggers & Paisley announced it was launching a new rotation, in addition to the ones provided. This rotation was through the pro bono and responsible business team, led by Tamara Sims. I was instantly drawn to this opportunity as I have always had a passion for social justice and human rights, and had always had an interest in combining my commercial law career with a solid pro bono practice. Before I knew it, I was embarking on this five-month journey with the support of Colin Biggers & Paisley and my supervisors, who guided me and encouraged me to challenge myself and provided me with the opportunity to be involved in various projects and pro bono matters.

Being the first person in the practice to rotate through the pro bono team as a graduate, I was unsure what to expect. However, my expectations were far exceeded and this rotation has proven to be one of the best experiences I have had, both personally and professionally.  

Being a part of Colin Biggers & Paisley's pro bono team was an experience nothing short of incredible. In five months, I was able to gain important skills in advocacy and client management, as well as deepening my relationships with people from other areas of the practice and the practice's community partners. I was left inspired both professionally as well as personally and I hope it has provided, and will continue to provide, value to the community we are proud members of. 

The Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation and Marrickville Legal Centre

My rotation with the pro bono department was divided into two categories: the first being a secondment to Marrickville Legal Centre (MLC) for three days per week, and the second being two days with the pro bono team at Colin Biggers & Paisley.

MLC is one of the oldest community legal centres in NSW, established in 1979. It offers free legal advice and assistance to the community of the inner-west, south-west and southern suburbs of Sydney. The work performed by the centre reaches 1.5 million people who live within the catchment area, which accounts for nearly 30 per cent of Sydney’s total population.

The Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation has partnered with MLC since 2017. The main focus of this partnership is the Youth Legal Service (YLS) clinic, which is a weekly advice night operated by MLC staff and volunteer solicitors who provide their time and expertise to help young people experiencing a range of legal issues.

My secondment with the YLS clinic came at an opportune time as the clinic had experienced an increase in enquiries resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. During my days working on the YLS clinic, I was able to assist the YLS team with enquiries relating to employment issues, the JobKeeper scheme, criminal issues, traffic matters and other issues affecting Sydney's youth. This was a rewarding experience as it provided me with the opportunity to help young people who would otherwise not have access to legal advice. 

In addition to my involvement with the YLS clinic, I was fortunate enough to assist MLC with its Duty Lawyer Service (DLS) at the Burwood Local Court on Thursdays. The DLS service is an initiative of MLC in conjunction with the Burwood Local Court. The DLS assists by providing advice and representation to people who are unable to receive assistance from Legal Aid NSW.

MLC recognised the increasing number of unrepresented parties who regularly attend court for matters ranging from domestic violence to traffic violations and other criminal charges and launched this service to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, receive appropriate legal advice and are equipped to navigate the legal system and court processes.

The DLS service proved to be one of the most rewarding parts of my rotation. I was able to help people who were in immediate need and who often came to court feeling lost, overwhelmed and confused but left feeling more empowered and knowledgeable over their legal matter.

Being a part of this service allowed me to develop not only my advocacy skills, but also allowed me to see the direct effects of providing pro bono services to the community. I felt a great sense of pride in being able to promote equal access to justice to all individuals.  

One of the most rewarding matters during this rotation included assisting a young lady, who is an American national, on a partner visa in Australia. This lady was involved in a situation that resulted in her being the defendant in a domestic violence matter. This prevented her from leaving the country until the matter was resolved, but one which she felt she could not resolve as she did not have the economic means to hire a solicitor, and did not meet the criteria for Legal Aid. The client was hoping to start her life over with her young son back in America, as she could not legally work in Australia due to her visa, meaning that she and her son were living below the poverty line and in very unstable circumstances.

"I have never encountered such genuine desire to help, such understanding and compassionate personnel. Once they went over my case, they showed me the options I had available which made me feel more prepared. But during this situation I had a panic attack as I suffer from PTSD and Bipolar Disorder. They decided to represent me, which meant the world to me as I was not mentally or intellectually prepared for what was to come, in terms of facing a judge in a foreign country where I am not fully aware of the legal laws."

The client was so grateful for the help she received, she sent through the above testimony excerpted above, highlighting how much of a difference the DLS service made to her life. Because of this service, the client was able to have her matter finalised and her passport returned meaning that she and her son could be reunited with their family and support system in America.

Last but not least, during my two days at Colin Biggers & Paisley, I was able to work with the pro bono team and lawyers across the different practice groups on pro bono matters. This included working on great initiatives such as the 'Raise the Age Campaign' by providing assistance with legal research and drafting to support the campaign to raise the age of criminal responsibility for children from 10 years of age to 14 years of age. Other initiatives involved assisting individuals with their legal matters following a cancer diagnosis, providing legal assistance to women victims of domestic violence to make applications to Victims Services for a recognition payment following an act of violence and providing governance advice to our not for profit pro bono clients.

My graduate rotation with the pro bono and responsible business team was an incredibly rewarding experience personally and professionally. It provided me with opportunities to work on a variety of pro bono matters with lawyers across Colin Biggers & Paisley's practice groups. My secondment to MLC provided me with exposure to new areas of law and the opportunity to work with clients face to face and to assist them to navigate the legal landscape during a difficult and stressful time in their lives. I will continue to work on pro bono matters throughout my legal career and cannot recommend the graduate rotation in the pro bono and responsible business team enough.

Andrea Buritica Toro