FIONA MCLEAY is the first Australian from a private law firm to be selected for the master’s degree in public service law at New York University (NYU).
McLeay’s present position as senior associate and pro bono coordinator for Clayton Utz in Melbourne will be held for her while she completes the course. She will join 14 others selected for starting the global program in August this year.
McLeay has received a scholarship to do the course. She receives full tuition for the LLM. in public service law, a little to cover basic living expenses, and one round-trip air ticket between New York and Australia.
The aim of the course, according to McLeay, is to bring together lawyers doing this type of work from around the world. “They are brought together in New York to think and study and then go home,” she said.
This year, lawyers will be brought from China, Lebanon, the Philippines, Columbia, Ghana, Zambia, Argentina and Canada. “It’s a great way for me to meet some new people and see different ways of doing this type of work,” she said.
“I will be able to reflect and get new ideas about the work. When you meet people doing similar things you discover new connections. The woman from China is from a private law firm and she has said that she will now think about doing pro bono work there,” McLeay said.
Mcleay devised Clayton Utz’s community connect program, their version of corporate citizenship. This runs in parallel to its pro bono program.
When she gets to NYC, she intends to learn more about these areas. “I want to look at the role of the private profession in public service law.”
Pressed as to why NYU may have picked her, McLeay said she thought it was the fact that she was from a private law firm in the Western world. “They have selected no-one from this context before.”
“As far as I know I am the first from a commercial firm. The mix of corporate citizenship and pro bono is interesting. I think they select people very carefully because the course takes its focus from the students that are in it.”
All 15 students take one subject together, the theory and practice of public service law. Then they each choose their own subjects from within the university. “Most pick up at least one human rights subject,” Mcleay said.
“I plan on doing at least one or two human rights subjects, and one called law and development. Also, there is a human rights clinic which works on particular human rights projects and is more practical.”
With husband in tow, Mcleay will travel to New York in August. “A lot of us are married. Whether we live in Greenwich Village will depend on the way the accommodation works — it would be weird being in student accommodation again,” she said.