What is the Public Interest Law Initiative?


Melbourne Law School (MLS) launched the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) in 2012. PILI aims to give students practical legal experience and provide the community with much needed additional resources for public interest law causes, particularly the provision of legal advice and assistance to disadvantaged clients. PILI offers a range of innovative subjects and experiential learning opportunities to students, including external placements, internships and clinics, supplemented by induction and debrief sessions and a series of relevant seminars. PILI subjects allow students to develop practical legal skills, while making a real difference to our community.

What Does PILI Do?

PILI is committed to developing unique experiential opportunities for JD students at MLS. These exciting clinical opportunities are available to JD students as elective subjects.

PILI subjects enable students to contribute to real cases and work on real client issues. This practical learning is complemented by seminars that support students in their acquisition of professional skills and provide a forum for reflection, discussion and debate. The subjects incorporate a variety of assessment tasks, that combine academic analysis with practical experience and reflective practice.

Public Interest Law Clinic

Public Interest Law Clinic offers students a chance to participate in practical learning and support the work of a public interest law organisation. Students attend Victoria Legal Aid or a community legal centre for one day each week during semester, where they advise and assist clients under the supervision of clinical supervisors from their host organization. A strong nexus with MLS is maintained via orientation, assessment and seminars that focus on skills development, and reflective practice.

Street Law

Street Law provides students with a unique opportunity to make their own valuable contribution to community legal education. Students visit partner secondary schools with diverse student populations to deliver three lessons on areas of law of interest and relevance to young people. Street Law is an innovative multidisciplinary subject that combines education in topical areas of law with pedagogical training from faculty of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. In recognition of its social inclusion emphasis, Street Law won a University of Melbourne Diversity and Inclusion Award in 2013. 

Sustainability Business Clinic

Sustainability Business Clinic is a unique transactional law clinic that is based at MLS and supervised by lawyers from Ashurst Australia. Students are supervised in providing transactional, place-based and start-up legal advice to new and innovative community and environmentally-minded enterprises. The clinic offers students the opportunity to directly assist clients who do not otherwise have access to lawyers or legal advice and who are driven by a desire to make a difference within the community.

Legal Internship

PILI also supports students to undertake vocational placements through the Legal Internship subject, which provides for community-focused practical legal experience at a public interest organisations in Australia or overseas. Public interest internships are an invaluable way for students to complement the substantive study of law through experiential learning and reflection. Student interns may perform a variety of tasks, such as interviewing clients, preparing file notes, researching and drafting materials for lawyers and policy advisers, collaborating with stakeholders and participating in staff meetings. 

Disability Human Rights Clinic

Disability Human Rights Clinic ran for the first time in Semester 2, 2015 and brings together the fields of disability studies and international human rights law. Students in DHRC analyse and report on rights violations experienced by people with disabilities. They participate in a range of clinical projects for their clients such as legislative submissions, amicus briefs and shadow reporting. 

Law Apps

Law Apps was also offered for the first time in Semester 2, 2015. In Law Apps, students partner with a community legal organization and design, build and release a live legal expert system that can assist the organization to provide legal advice to non-lawyers. Law Apps offers JD students a unique opportunity to explore and apply the potential of artificial intelligence to provide practical solutions to common legal problems.

International Criminal Justice Clinic

International Criminal Justice Clinic is an exciting new clinic that will commence in Semester 2, 2016. International Criminal Justice Clinic will be run in partnership with Amnesty International. Students will conduct timely research and advocacy on current topical issues of human rights in actual proceedings before international criminal tribunals.

Each PILI subject presents a unique and invaluable hands-on learning experience for all JD students, regardless of their career aspirations. PILI subjects assist students to develop transferable skills, gain an insight into different career paths and practice settings, and build contacts within the legal profession, while providing valuable assistance to the community.

How Do Students Benefit from PILI Subjects?

PILI subjects offer students practical learning opportunities to supplement their classroom studies. The practical or clinical component aims to benefit students in two equally important ways. First, it enables students to start to build professional skills early on in their career. Secondly, it encourages an awareness of professional responsibility and ethical competence that is essential for effective practice. It is useful to think about the benefits of PILI subjects in relation to each of these fundamental aims.

Professional skills

The practical and dynamic nature of each student's experience will help them to develop professional skills that will assist in their transition to legal practice. Some of the practical skills a student may identify as important and consolidate through their practical learning include:

  1. Oral and written communication skills: in particular, a capacity to convey complex information in clear and succinct language to non-lawyers
  2. Strong interpersonal skills, which are critical to working effectively with both individuals and groups
  3. The ability to work effectively in the context of a high volume workload
  4. The capacity to prioritise work and meet deadlines in the context of significant time constraints
  5. Advocacy techniques
  6. Teamwork and collaborative skills
  7. Attention to detail
  8. Technical expertise in substantive areas of law.

Professional responsibility

All PILI subjects are designed to encourage students to reflect on their professional responsibilities as future legal practitioners. Students are exposed to the realities of legal practice and the impact of law on vulnerable people, and are prompted to reflect on the role of law in society and the attributes of an effective lawyer. PILI subjects encourage students to reflect on their career paths and to consider what kind of lawyer they would like to be.