Clayton Utz articled clerk and recipient of a medal for community work from the Victorian Law Foundation, Daniel Matta, says pro bono work is not only fulfilling but a great way to achieve a well-rounded career in the law.
“To be a well-rounded law graduate, you have got to seek your own practical experience,” Matta said.
“A lot of lawyers who give up their time to these causes need some support staff — people who are studying law who are able to assist them in gathering information and preparing briefs,” he said. “As a law student you are not at the coalface of practising law, but you are definitely a very important cog in the whole scheme of things.”
To be eligible for the Chief Justice’s Medal for Excellence and Community Service, a final year student needs a minimum distinction average and the potential to be an honours candidate, Matta said, along with displaying a commitment to the community.
On top of achieving good grades at Victoria University, Matta volunteered for numerous legal services, such as the Family Law Assistance program, Springvale Monash Legal Service, St Kilda Legal Service and Southport Legal Service.
“I started off volunteering at some local community legal centres (CLCs), but that just basically involved taking client details, taking down notes in an interview, and inputting data into the CLC database,” Matta said.
“Then I discovered a place called the Family Law Assistance Program. That was the only place where I was able to run my own files,” he said. “So I actually interviewed clients one-on-one. It was brilliant … such a fantastic opportunity.”
Dealing with clients showed Matta the need to develop strong social skills to complement the theory learned in law school.
“You wouldn’t talk to a client, for instance, the way you would in a moot, or talk to a judge in court. It actually requires social skills, the kind of skills that can’t be delivered through a lecture.”
Nominations are called at the end of each year, when every Victorian law school’s dean proposes one student. A panel is then convened by the Victoria Law Foundation, which makes the decision along with the Chief Justice.
Matta said that as an articled clerk, he currently does not do any pro bono work outside of the normal working hours. But for more senior lawyers, it is a matter of time management to meet the requirements of both paid and unpaid work.
“We have a 35-hour minimum amount that every lawyer must do each year, but every lawyer that I have met has exceeded that,” he said. “I’ve only been here for two-and-a-half months and I’ve accumulated just over 100 hours of pro bono work.”