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Law students worse off after funding cuts

Law students worse off after funding cuts

Law students will face a diminished legal education after funding cuts to environmental defenders offices, an expert claims.

The head of The University of Queensland Pro Bono Centre at the TC Beirne School of Law, Monica Taylor, has expressed disappointment and regret at recent State Government funding cuts to the Environmental Defenders Offices in Brisbane and Cairns.Â

“The EDO is the only community legal centre in Queensland that provides specialist advice and public interest advocacy on environmental legal issues,” UQ Pro Bono Centre Director, Taylor said.Â

“We regard the EDO as a vital agency doing important work in the public interest.”Â

Taylor told The New Lawyer that vibrant community legal centres are important for a functioning legal profession, “their role is specialist and vital”.

“Community Legal Centres take the load off, they provide legal services where nobody else can provide it. Nobody does what the EDO does,” she said in an interview.

She believes Legal Aid can’t fill the gap that will be left, and “big firms usually act for those on the other side of the coin”.

The UQ Pro Bono Centre links experienced law student volunteers from the TC Beirne School of Law with community legal centres seeking assistance in their pro bono activities. Taylor says the University will continue to provide law elective subjects around the environment, but it can’t officer the chance to practice that in a clinical setting.

This month, the UQ Pro Bono Centre and the EDO are partnering to provide clinical placements for law students at the EDO.Â

“Law student interest in environmental issues is extremely strong at UQ, with high enrolments in our environmental law elective courses,” Taylor said.Â

“We are partnering with the community legal sector to develop dynamic learning opportunities for our students in a clinical legal setting.Â

“Engaging in public interest and pro bono legal work is a core part of a well-rounded legal education,” she said. Usually between three to six students will have access to one experienced legal practitioner. However, funding cuts means there will likely be fewer of those professionals in these centres.

“Without organisations like the EDO, not only the environment but our profession as a whole would be far worse off,” Taylor said.Â

"Certainly from our perspective, defunding the EDO has consequences for our Centre's ability to expand our clinical legal education program for experienced law students.”Â

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