RLC in the Media: UTS Law’s new social justice subject teaches empathy through experience

Select students from the UTS Faculty of Law will assist vulnerable international students with legal issues in a newly established partnership between Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) and the Faculty. 

Tess Gibney from UTS reports.

Offered through the Faculty’s newest internship subject, Local Internship, the opportunity places students in RLC’s busy International Student Clinic for a session of immersive, practice-oriented learning.

RLC is currently the only service in NSW to provide comprehensive free legal assistance to the state’s burgeoning international student population. Over the past year, demand for the Clinic’s service has increased as a slew of media reports have raised the visibility of rampant exploitation in the international student community.

The Clinic’s international student solicitor, Sean Stimson, estimates up to 40 per cent of the state’s 160,000 international students will experience at least one legal issue while studying in Australia. Most of these issues, says Stimson, concern employment and tenancy.

“Employment concerns are related to exploitation in the workplace; major issues being underpayment and non-payment of wages, coercion to work additional hours and debt bondage,” he says. “Tenancy issues vary, but many students come to us for advice about early termination, disproportionately high-rent and non-refund of bonds.”

Students will spend one day a week at RLC’s Redfern office; attending weekly ‘clinic meetings’, participating in debates and organising the coordination of weekly RLC ‘advice nights’.

Stimson says there’s more to the placement, however, than the completion of typical legal tasks. Under supervision, he says, students will have the chance to properly explore the socio-legal complexities of work in the community legal centre sector.

“Working in the International Student Clinic will give the students detailed insights into the day-to-day experience of working in a social justice legal capacity.

“They’ll be able to develop an understanding of how to look for and identify underlying and competing issues that may be obscured by a client’s initial query.”

Coordinator of the program, Associate Professor Beth Goldblatt, says she hopes the placement will refine students’ ability to recognize where and how the law can be of assistance to marginalised people.

“Looking at the challenges faced by these international students – across a range of diverse issues – will prompt students to consider how the law can and should be applied.”

“It’s an excellent chance for students to experience the law in practice in a busy community legal centre.

 “Our aim is to enable students to apply their academic skills in a challenging and engaging professional context so as to produce well-adjusted legal graduates.”

Throughout the duration of the placement, students will get to test their legal abilities by conducting interviews and legal research, corresponding with clients and referral networks and drafting statements of claims, as well as some policy work and legislative advocacy.

The internship runs every Wednesday for 11 weeks. Applications for spring session are now open via the Faculty of Law internship page.

Article originally published 28 April 2017 on uts.edu.au