Schools and the law

A new model of working together to help students and their families

A new pilot program is bringing legal education and support for students and parents into schools. One Victorian school is helping them to understand and navigate the complex legal issues that they so often face. Lawyer Vincent Shin explains the issues to Cathy Hickey, Assistant Secretary IEU VicTas.

The School Lawyer Project aims to build the confidence of the school community to effectively engage with the justice system in order to improve the stability of school families and the attendance and performance of the school’s students. It’s all based on the idea of early intervention and trying to do everything possible to assist students stay engaged at school.

The pilot program was born out of the Youth Couch Surfing Project being conducted by Shorna Moore from Western Community Legal Centre, which explores the issues faced by young couch surfers. Prior to the launch of the school lawyer project, Shorna Moore and Marijana Graljuk were providing a weekly outreach drop-in clinic at The Grange College, working closely with Renee Dowling and the school wellbeing team.

Vincent is providing legal advice and representation for students and their families. He also delivers community legal education to inform the students and their families of their legal rights and responsibilities in relation to specific areas of law.

The project is funded by Jack Brockhoff Foundation, RE Ross Trust, Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, Slater and Gordon’s Community Fund and Newsboys Foundation.

The importance of legal education

Community legal education is an ongoing and important aspect of the project. This program is delivered mainly to the students but is also targeted at staff and parents and guardians.

The topics are generally in response to the work that is coming through to the lawyer, but also focuses on the general needs of the community. Some of the topics have been on the laws of sexting and employment. The sessions that the lawyer runs are specifically tailored for young people and involve activities to encourage student involvement.

Students have responded well to this type of practical information because it is so relevant to them.

Schools and the law working together

Every new partnership has its challenges. Given this is a cross sector partnership between the legal and education systems, invariably there were teething issues mainly around operational issues. However they have all been resolved and the program is working smoothly.

One of the key aspects is the great match between Vincent Shin and the project’s aims.

Vincent has specialised in the areas of family law, intervention orders and criminal law. He is not only a qualified lawyer but is also an amateur boxer and rides a motorbike! Before becoming a lawyer, Vincent also spent several years working as a carer in residential care units for young people across the state. Vincent has an understanding of the needs of vulnerable and marginalised young people.

Vincent Shin is the school lawyer based at The Grange P-12 College and is an Australian first. Vincent is employed by Western Community Legal Centre Ltd and based at school four days a week and one day a week at the legal centre.