Why we need lawyers in schools

By the Law Society of NSW|11 March 2020

Promoted by the Law Society of NSW

You expect to find lawyers in law firms, corporations, courts and even universities. But how often do you see a lawyer providing advice at a high school?

Christina Alkhamisi from Legal Aid, one of only a few lawyers in NSW to provide legal advice to school students, does precisely that. Every Wednesday she works at Fairfield High School to provide legal advice to students.

The pilot program is due to run for one year, but Alkhamisi is passionate about expanding it to other schools.

“The fact that we’re the only ones doing this program is worrying to me,” says Alkhamisi.

“Some students are experiencing domestic violence or criminal law issues, which makes them incredibly stressed and anxious. They’re not showing up to school because of these legal issues.

“If they can get help from us, then they’re able to attend school and pay attention in class.”

Fairfield High School was selected due to its proximity to the Legal Aid office where Alkhamisi works, and because of the area’s large refugee community.

The benefit of this proximity is that the students have the option to come into the Legal Aid office if they don’t feel comfortable meeting at school. Equally, being based at the school one day a week makes it easier to follow up on students who are difficult to contact.

Alkhamisi says the bulk of her student matters involve immigration, employment, financial disadvantage and domestic violence. She notes the key difference to dealing with students is a lot more hand holding.

“There are a lot of services available to students, but if I just tell them about it, like I would an adult, they won’t follow through,” says Alkhamisi.

She says there is a misconception that young people don’t care about their legal issues.

“This is not the case. They’re affected just as much as adults, but they’re not as vocal about it and they don’t know how to get help,” she says.

ThisLegal Aid program advocates a holistic approach to addressing legal issues in schools. For example, Alkhamisi assisted a student who was experiencing domestic violence at home and had moved in with a friend after trying to get assistance from the Department of Family and Community Services.

Subsequently, that friend’s mother financially abused the student. In addition to providing legal advice, Alkhamisi helped that student obtain youth allowance and accommodation.

“Youth clients are often not a priority for big law firms, but they should be,” says Alkhamisi.

If you’re interested in learning more, the Law Society of NSW is offering a CPD seminar on 23 March 2020 examining the relationship between law and the education system. Alkhamisi will be joined on the panel by Judge Peter Johnstone, President of the Children’s Court of NSW, a representative from the NSW Department of Education, and other experts.

The Law Society of NSW will be running this 1.5 CPD unit seminar from 9.00am-10.30am on Monday 23 March 2020.

For more information and to register see: Emerging issues in school law


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