Law Week 2018 Justice Journeys

Binuri

Binuri’s placement, ‘Protecting Vulnerable Queenslanders’ took her to Legal Aid, the Office of the Public Guardian, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal and the Public Trustee.

Legal Aid Queensland – day one

My first day of my justice journey started off with meeting Jan, who is a senior Human Resources officer at Legal Aid Queensland. Jan explained how Legal Aid worked, its link to protecting vulnerable people and how there were different teams on each of the levels, including the criminal law, family law and civil justice teams.

Federal Circuit Court

I began my time in the family law division, which is something I was excited about because of my interest in family law. I was introduced to one of the family lawyers, Mary-ann, who ran me through the work that she did and showed me the case that I would be observing in court that day. As Mary-ann and I walked to the Federal Circuit Court, she talked about her career, explained some of the previous cases that she had worked on and linked them back to the media’s portrayal of how court cases are seen. Mary-ann spoke about how TV shows and movies tend to misunderstand how the law works in court, especially in family law cases, and how it has caused difficulties in how laypeople view the justice system.

After we arrived at the Federal Circuit Court, we were met by a barrister and an independent lawyer who represents children, who were negotiating an agreement.

I was lucky to sit in with the legal representatives in a private consultation room and see the interactions. I was surprised at how easy going and respectful they all were and saw how the lawyers’ experience and knowledge shone through the way they worked.

Outside the Legal Aid office.Outside the Legal Aid office.

I sat in on a case that was running as a trial before a judge in the Family Court. The applicant in the case I observed was self-represented and it was clear that she was struggling to ensure that her case was up to scratch. There were many legal terms and processes that she was confused about and as a result, it impacted the validity and strength of her case so I could see how important it is to have organisations like Legal Aid to ensure that vulnerable people are being sufficiently represented and protected, and in turn, receive a fair and equitable outcome.

After spending about half the day in the Federal Circuit Court, I came back to the Legal Aid building and received the opportunity to sit with a family lawyer and listen in on advice calls that had been directed from the main call centre to the family law unit. I got to see what the first point of contact is when a client seeks legal advice. I was in awe of how the family lawyer handled the different situations – she acted very calm and was professional even when the call started to veer off track or started to become a bit tense.

As I walked out of the Legal Aid building that day, I thought about how much I had learnt how much the experience so far had concreted in me that law and justice were the fields I wanted to work in.

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Legal Aid Queensland – day two

My second day at Legal Aid started off in the criminal law division. I was introduced to Rosemary, a senior criminal lawyer at Legal Aid, who I was going to shadow for the morning. Rosemary and I went to the Magistrates Court, which is the first level of the Queensland courts system and where most criminal cases and civil actions are heard. Rosemary said that she was going to court today to do some duty lawyer work. Duty lawyers are basically free lawyers who are at the courts every day who are able to give free legal advice, help fill out courts forms and/or documents, discuss your eligibility for legal aid, and sometimes represent you in court, depending on your situation. Unfortunately, there were not many clients at court that day, much to our surprise, therefore a portion of the morning was spent meeting other legal representatives who were at court that day.

Luckily, there was another duty lawyer from Legal Aid named Laura who I was able to sit with in the private consultation room while she consulted with clients. I was lucky to sit in on three duty lawyer consultations that ranged from topics such as fraud to vehicle incidents to assault charges and then go and see how Laura represented each of those clients in front of a magistrate. Again, this enforced the importance of sufficient legal representation for anyone and just how much it could change the outcome of a court hearing.

After lunch, I was taken to the civil justice division and was introduced to Charo, who is a civil lawyer at Legal Aid. Charo took me through some civil law cases that she was working on, including bankruptcy proceedings, and I was able to sit in on a few calls with some clients that she had.

After spending some time in the civil justice division, I was taken down to the Client Information Services Contact Centre. The contact centre is the main call centre where highly trained client information officers listen to your problems, are able to give some general legal information and can tell you about the services available at Legal Aid and how to access these.

I received the opportunity to sit with one of the client information officers and experience what it's like to be in a position like that. Legal Aid has a special program for scheduling legal advice sessions with lawyers and the client information officer showed me how that program worked and gave me some tips on how to handle certain types of calls.

In all, my time at Legal Aid was amazing and it’s definitely somewhere that I would love to work in terms of the friendly atmosphere and the purpose of the organisation.

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QCAT – day three

Binuri's view from the QCAT buildingBinuri's view from the QCAT building

I spent my third day at the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, otherwise known as QCAT. I began the day by meeting the Principal Alternative Dispute Resolution Officer, Luke. Luke explained how QCAT worked in terms of the work that they do to ensure that disputes are resolved in a fair and timely manner, the role that the judicial and registry sides of QCAT play in ensuring these outcomes and his position as the Principal ADR Officer. Luke spoke about the importance of alternative dispute resolution at QCAT and how it can benefit parties through an early and economical resolution of the dispute.

Mediation

I was then informed that I would get the chance to sit in on a few mediations.  A mediation is a form of dispute resolution where a mediator acts and guides the parties as an independent third party to ensure that both parties discuss their issues and common interests to come to an appropriate and beneficial agreement I had previously completed a unit called Dispute Resolution at university in which I had learnt about mediations and had even gotten the chance to participate in an assessed mediation role-play. However, being able to sit in on an actual mediation was completely different to what I had expected. I noticed that even though a mediator has an expected role to play and certain limitations in the way that they contribute to the mediation, the mediator’s role also included strong reality testing with parties to assist them consider what is in their best interests.

I then met Senior Legal Officer, Ellen. Ellen spoke to me about the policy work that she does for QCAT and how important this policy work was to ensure that the registry side of QCAT functioned in an efficient manner.

Binuri sitting in the Direction Heading Court.Binuri sitting in the Direction Heading Court.

After lunch, I met the Associate for Senior Member Ian Brown, Erica. Erica informed me that I would be observing Senior Member Brown in some directions hearings for a couple of hours. Before going into the directions hearings, Erica printed out a “Schedule Details Report” which contained all the hearings that were going to be conducted that afternoon. A directions hearing is basically where a judge, commissioner, or in this case, a QCAT Senior Member reviews a particular case which is on its way to a hearing. Among other matters discussed, it may be suggested to the parties that they continue to pursue options to resolve a dispute. The Senior Member makes directions to progress the matter to a hearing. This might also include directing the matter to proceed to a mediation or a compulsory conference with a member of the Tribunal which may lead to a resolution of the dispute or a narrowing the issues the Tribunal is required to decide at the hearing. I personally did not know that this occurred in the process leading up to a court hearing therefore thought that it was not only an excellent way to ensure that the parties reached a solution without spending copious amounts of money in litigation but also a great way to ensure that there was less backlog in the court system.

My day at QCAT opened my mind to the several other ways that people are able to receive access to justice and how there are so many more options for a person to resolve their matter in an efficient and timely manner.

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Office of the Public Guardian – day four

Binuri and Catherine at the Office of the Public GuardianBinuri and Catherine at the Office of the Public Guardian

The fourth day of my justice journey was spent at the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). The OPG’s statutory purpose is to promote and protects the rights and interests of children/young people in the child protection system and adults with impaired decision making capacity. I spent my time with the OPG’s Legal Services/Investigations area which is made up of four key teams: Corporate and Legal Practice Team, Children/Young People Team, Adult Team and Investigations team.

I started my day meeting the Executive Assistant for Legal Services/Investigations, Kirsty took me around the office and introduced me to all of the teams. After meeting the teams, she introduced me to the Official Solicitor and Director of Legal Services/Investigations, Catherine. I was then introduced to one of the Legal Officers, Nicole, who gave me some practical legal work to do. This practical legal work was beneficial to me as it gave me an idea of what introductory law jobs were going to be like and helped me apply what I had learnt in university in a real-world situation.

Catherine then invited me to sit in on a meeting with Nicole and Tony from the Corporate and Legal Practice Team to discuss the development of an organisational practice direction for “Forensic Examinations of Adults with Impaired Capacity” and to review a consent form for the Public Guardian to be able to carry out a forensic examination. The Corporate and Legal Practice Team provides legal advice and assistance to the Public Guardian and her delegates in the performance of their statutory functions–like an in-house Counsel role. They were trying to finalise the practice direction and the consent form as soon as they could so that it could be approved and released to help staff who were asked to consent to these types of examinations. Catherine asked me if I could read both the forms and take notes on how it could be improved. After the meeting, Catherine invited me out to have lunch with her. During lunch, Catherine and I had a general conversation about our legal interests and she provided me with tips on how to further boost my career.

After lunch, I received another opportunity to complete some practical legal work with Nicole. This practical work required me to use my statutory interpretation skills that I had learnt in my first year of university. Again, this was very beneficial to me as the hands-on work really gave me a glimpse of what actual legal work is like and gave me first-hand experience in what a legal clerk or paralegal would do.

I found my time at the Office of the Public Guardian exciting and challenging. I didn’t realise that the OPG was so humanitarian based and had so much to do with protecting the human rights of individuals, however spending the day was insightful and a big learning curve.

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Public Trustee – day five

CEO Peter Carne and BinuriCEO Peter Carne and Binuri

On Friday 20 April, I arrived at the Public Trustee for the Law Week Justice Journey job shadow program. My day began with a welcome brief from Marketing and Communications Officers, Danni and Kristin.

Next, I met Amanda, the Executive Director of Customer Experience and Delivery, and Linda, Director, Regional Services, who gave me an overview of the Public Trustee and the organisation’s commitment to customers.

After receiving a tour of the office, I had the opportunity to meet A/Senior Director Human Resources and Marcomms, Stephen, who spoke to me about the role of Human Resources and Marketing and Communications in the organisation as well as the ethics and values of the Public Trustee.

Next I was introduced to the Wills Manager, Geoff. Geoff showed me the software used to create Wills and together we went through the process of creating a valid Will.

David, Managing Lawyer, Binuri, Kisa, Lawyer, Stephanie, Managing Lawyer and Annlouise, Lawyer.L to R: David, Managing Lawyer, Binuri, Kisa, Lawyer,
Stephanie, Managing Lawyer and Annlouise, Lawyer.

Prior to meeting with the legal department I was introduced to the CEO and the Public Trustee of Queensland, Peter Carne. Peter gave me a thorough overview of the role the Public

Trustee plays in protecting vulnerable people in Queensland. He spoke about his vision for the organisation. It was incredible to hear about Peter’s own career journey and inspiring stories made me even more excited to work in the legal field. He was very interested in my legal studies, as well as my ambitions and interests.

Next, I met Stephanie, Managing Lawyer, who took me to meet with various lawyers from different practice areas of the Office of the Official Solicitor. I was introduced to the Official Solicitor and Deputy Public Trustee of Queensland, Mark. We spoke about conveyancing, management of prisoner estates, misappropriation by former attorneys and financial administrators for financial management clients and deceased estates. Until the experience, I hadn’t realised the Public Trustee did so much work in the area of disability services.

Binuri reading a Will from 1916.Binuri reading a Will from 1916.

After having lunch with the legal team, I travelled to the Brendale regional office where the Public Trustee’s contact centre and the Wills Bunker are located. I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the Wills Bunker, which is a state-of-the-art, temperature controlled building that stores over 1.1 million Wills. It was amazing to hold and read a Will made by a digger going off to war in 1916.

It was fascinating to see how an organisation like the Public Trustee has the ability to provide a huge range of services to the people of Queensland and ensure that vulnerable people with reduced capacity can retain their legal rights and receive representation.

I am lucky and grateful to have received the opportunity to be able to participate in the Justice Journeys program. It allowed me to see how different organisations contributed to protecting the rights of vulnerable people in Queensland and Australia as a whole and has only further cemented in that I would love to work in any organisation that contributes to diminishing the gap between injustice and justice. I learnt so much in just one week and it was an honour to have met and worked with every single person that I met through my Justice Journey. I encourage anyone who has an interest in law or justice to really take on this amazing opportunity because it is a once in a lifetime experience.

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