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Turning legal knowledge into legal skills

Deakin Law Clinic provides students with invaluable, real-world legal experience.

Deakin Law School (DLS) students have put their legal learning into practice and participated in the successful outcome of a family law matter thanks to experience gained in the Deakin Law Clinic.

Supervised by clinical solicitors Rebecca Tisdale, Syd Balachandran and Oliver Kidd at the Deakin Law Clinic, DLS students are able to successfully build on their practical legal skills in the Civil and Commercial Law Clinic, Criminal Law Clinic, Employment Law Clinic, Family Law Clinic and the Venture Law Clinic. 

Under Mr Balachandran’s supervision, DLS students Paige Gordon and Luke Warmington completed the Family Law Clinic in Trimester 1 2018 where they successfully interviewed multiple clients, drafted legal documents (including parenting and property orders in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia) and prepared numerous letters of advice.

‘Paige and Luke instructed and assisted me in relation to our client’s first mention hearing at the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. They also helped prepare a memorandum brief that outlined their client's matter and assisted in the negotiations that took place,’ explains Mr Balachandran.

As a teaching law firm, the Deakin Law Clinic is a central part of the Deakin Law School’s (DLS) clinical legal education program and is offered to students in the final years of their degree. Since August 2017, it has opened over 120 matters across its five practice areas.

Undertaking the Family Law Clinic as one of the final units in her degree, Paige says the hands-on legal training was an invaluable experience.

‘I’d worked in legal offices so I did have some experience in processes and procedures but I’d never worked in family law. This was a great new experience as it is quite different – and far more personal – than other [law] areas.’

Initially, Paige and Luke worked with an existing client but they also had the opportunity to take on a new client during the trimester.

‘The existing client matter was very rewarding as both Luke and I attended court and saw some finality to our matter. It was also extremely satisfying to see the gratitude from the client for our work,’ says Paige.

Luke agrees that the Family Law Clinic was a ‘fantastic learning experience’ that enabled him to conduct client interviews, draft legal documents and initiate applications.

‘Further, Paige and I were lucky enough to attend a court hearing with Syd in the Federal Circuit Court for our client. It was satisfying to see the work we had completed unfold in the courts and in negotiation with the other side’s barrister resulting in a successful outcome for our client,’ he adds.

Another highlight for Luke was the insight it provided into the realities of life as a practising lawyer. 

‘It was amazing how much we learnt in a short 11 weeks and it gave me great perspective and insight into what working as a family lawyer would be like. That included the challenges and emotions of family law and being able to maintain your professionalism while still being personable, empathetic and understanding that your clients are undergoing a very traumatic time in their lives,’ he says.

Both students discovered that the Deakin Law Clinic enhanced their learning across a variety of levels while providing real-world skills.

‘The [Deakin Law] clinic benefitted me exponentially,’ says Luke. ‘Both my written and verbal communication skills improved as I had to communicate with our client and the lawyers. I also learned the benefits of working in a strong team (with Paige). The Family Law Clinic reinvigorated my passion in the law and reshaped my career goals as I now want to pursue a career in family law.’

Paige says that while working in the clinic provided her with an outstanding opportunity to improve her legal knowledge and writing skills, one of the key highlights was working with Mr Balachandran.

‘Syd was incredibly patient and helpful and there was so much that we learnt from him. It really does prepare you for working in a legal environment more so than anything else I’ve done in my degree.’

Luke adds that Mr Balachandran contributed a ‘phenomenal amount of work and time’ into the clinic to ensure they gained as much as knowledge and skills as possible.

‘He was always available for our questions and goes over and above each day. I would strongly encourage any law students to enrol in the Family Law Clinic. It gave me a better understanding regarding my career trajectory and allowed me to develop greater confidence and skills required to be more employable in the future.’

Deakin Law Clinic offers clinical subjects throughout the academic year located at its offices in Deakin Downtown. For more information, please visit the Deakin Law Clinic webpage.

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