School hires full-time lawyer in Australian first

by Brett Henebery12 May 2015

David Smillie, principal of The Grange Secondary School, located in Werribee, told The Educator the lawyer will provide legal advice as part of a two-year donor-funded pilot program.

The lawyer will spend four days a week at the Melbourne school’s senior campus, assisting parents and students with legal advice. Being situated in a low-socioeconomic area, Smillie said the school is often approached by students’ families who are in need of legal advice about “social or financial issues”.   

“Families often come to the school and talk to me about social or financial issues which are beyond the educative,” Smillie said.

“We also have a lot of students whose families are refugees. A number of our senior staff have worked with some of those families in terms of helping them apply for residential visas or organising family reunions.”

It's the first time an Australian school has hired an in-house lawyer, Wyndham Legal Service manager, Richard Nelthorpe, told AAP last week.

"For us, early intervention is the key," Nelthorpe said.

"There have been times when parents who say they need to take their kids out of school because they are being evicted - but they haven't sought any legal advice."

Smillie said the school lawyer will also help students understand their role in the legal expectations of society.

“Every one of us is surrounded daily by aspects of the law. What this project will do is build a strong impression in kids’ minds that they are subject to the law and have to work within it,” Smillie said.

“The law really is a powerful presence in each of our lives, and I think the school lawyer will help drive that point home for students.”

Smillie explained how the project has positive applications for students beyond the school gates.

“I think there is a real need for parents to be not only supported in terms of keeping their kids at school but also to help them in their broader lives as well,” Smillie said.

“We’ve found that kids who have issues on the home front experience attendance and learning difficulties, causing them to become disengaged from schooling. It reinvents that cycle yet again.

“Hopefully once we get parents coming down to the school and working with us to get specific advice we can break that cycle.”
 

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