Lawyer goes back to school to tackle disadvantage

A school community will soon welcome a lawyer to its staff as part of an innovative pilot program.

A Wyndam Legal lawyer will take up a four day a week role at large school in Werribee as part of a two-year donor-funded pilot program.

The innovative program aims to assist the families of Grange Secondary School students, who face a range of social and financial issues that frequently prevent students from attending school and have seen teachers increasingly dealing with issues well outside the scope of teaching.

“This school is in an outer urban area so the notion that families in this area can just go and see a lawyer in the main street is quite misconceived,” said Wyndam Legal spokesperson Denis Nelthorpe.   “There are a lot of issues that the school is dealing with where it would just love to have access to a lawyer so that they don’t have to take responsibility for something that falls well outside teaching duties.”

Wyndam Legal intends to put notices in the school newsletter and hold afternoon and morning teas for parents to talk about legal issues they may not be aware of as part of an early intervention strategy.  He said it is not uncommon for parents to pull their children out of school because they are being evicted, when in they may have legal rights they are not aware of that could keep the kids in school.

“There’s a lot of research that says that people will talk to a doctor or potentially a social worker before they talk to a lawyer, he said.  “So we thought that if we could put a lawyer in the school as an early intervention mechanism, then we might well be able to contribute significantly to the ability to keep kids in the school.”

Vincent Shin, the lawyer who is soon to take up the new role, said he is familiar with the struggles facing the students at Grange Secondary School are facing.  After many family disruptions growing up, Shin didn’t make it into university.  He went to TAFE and after studying arts, was finally allowed to transfer to law where he graduated with honours.

“I chose to take on this program because I have always been passionate about helping disadvantaged children and social justice,” said Shin.  “Some of these kids are from disadvantaged backgrounds and my hope is to be able to assist them with legal and non-legal issues and ultimately help them break out of the cycle they are in.”

Shin, who has worked with disadvantaged children as a carer and then later as a family lawyer, is confident that he will be able to build trust with the school kids.

“I ride a motorbike and used to compete in amateur boxing and kickboxing… I feel that these things will help me engage well with the kids and show them that lawyers are real people too,” he said.  “Building a rapport is vital with kids so that they trust me with their issues and I can therefore assist them to the best of my abilities.”

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