The Australian economy is part of global trend that has seen an increasing emphasis placed on technological innovation and the rise of start-up culture. As the economy changes, so too does the world of commercial law, and this has prompted Deakin Law School (DLS) to establish two pro-bono law clinics in the heart of Melbourne’s legal district in the CBD.
These clinics, currently staffed by five experienced lawyers with plans to grow with the expansion of clinical offerings, offer DLS students the chance to volunteer at a specialist practice as part of their final-year elective subjects.
One of these clinics, the New Ventures Clinic, is entirely dedicated to providing legal assistance to start-ups and entrepreneurs, who may need help navigating areas of law which are rapidly changing, or are entirely new.
Working under the supervision of legal experts, DLS students gain invaluable practical experience.
‘Exposure to these new legal issues and problems means the students will be more creative thinkers and, therefore, better lawyers in the long run,’ Dr Claudio Bozzi, director of the New Ventures Clinic, explains.
Up to twenty students can volunteer at the New Ventures Clinic and its counterpart, the Commercial and Civil Clinic, each semester.
‘The clinics offer hands-on, practical legal experience for our students,’ Bozzi explains. ‘These are real law firms that provide pro bono services to actual clients.’
Bozzi says the New Ventures Clinic was established to help entrepreneurs in the early stages of projects, assisting them with legal matters including intellectual property, drafting of contracts, and corporate structuring.
‘The New Venture Clinic was started in recognition of the fact that more people need pro-bono legal work than previously thought,’ Bozzi says.
‘Entrepreneurs want to do their own thing and, especially when they’re starting up, don't want to spend money on lawyers that they could invest in marketing and developing their product.’
Bozzi refers to the service offered at the New Ventures Clinic as ‘premium pro-bono’, as the lawyers are able to spend a great deal of time with clients thanks to a smaller case load than many other legal centres.
‘I understand why lawyers charge but also why entrepreneurs can't afford it – they are two conflicting business models,’ Bozzi says.
‘Unfortunately, they often end up spending a lot of money for good legal advice later on. At the Clinic, we’re trying to catch them at the start, but we are happy to see them at any point.
‘Businesses work better and more efficiently, and are always more attractive to investors, when they’re properly set up and organised.’
Working at the coalface, the students provide support for the lawyers, including fact-checking, legal research and manning the clinics’ front desks. The students will also conduct research to draft policy and position papers about the changing economic landscape and what regulations might be required for the future.
‘The clinic is the missing link in the triangulation of technology, finance, and law and regulation,’ Bozzi explains.
‘At the Clinics, our students see real legal practice in action. It is very much a real job that they commit themselves to, and it prepares them for real legal practice and for assisting the community as skilled legal practitioners.’
Students will also take part in client interviews and managing case files, carrying these files through from initiation to closure whenever time permits. They may also accompany clients to a hearing at a court or tribunal.
‘These cases have real risks and liabilities attached for real people with real legal issues,’ Bozzi says. ‘This really ingrains well-developed client care skills, including a sense of responsibility and the importance of legal ethics and proper conduct. The students also gain experience in important skills like risk management and appreciation of foresight and dangers.’
Bozzi says completing the DLS clinics renders graduates employment-ready.
‘It’s truly their first real legal job as they’ve done real work on a real file for a real client,’ Bozzi says.