Connecting community and the law

Melbourne JD graduates Andrea Henson and Peter Botros were inspired to pursue careers in the community legal sector after studying Street Law at Melbourne Law School.

MLS alumni Ms Henson and Mr Peter Botros in their office at South East Community Legal ServiceToday, the couple work at South East Community Legal Service (SECLS) in Mt. Gambier, a non-profit community organisation that provides free legal education and services for residents of the South East who cannot afford a lawyer.

Studying Street Law proved to be a formative experience for the couple, giving them the opportunity to develop their skills in real-world community legal education.

Street Law is an elective subject available to Melbourne JD students. JD students who participate in the subject visit high schools around Melbourne to deliver engaging lessons on legal topics relevant to young people.

Ms Henson, Legal Education Project Officer at SECLS, studied Street Law because she wanted to make the law more accessible for everyday people.

“I studied Street Law to be able to make the law a relatable concept for people who aren’t law students and lecturers”, she says.

Mr Botros, a solicitor at the legal service, always planned to work in the community sector and Street Law enabled him to refine his professional skills.

“Community legal education is a huge part of empowering people through law. Street Law gave me the practical skills to do that”, he says. “The ability to communicate complex legal concepts is useful in community education and in providing advice as a solicitor.”

Both Mr Botros and Ms Henson found the teaching methods they learned in Street Law to be indispensable.

“In Street Law I learned to develop legal education lesson plans for young people. I do this now in my current job and have been able to extend these skills to planning seminars for the community and seniors”, Ms Henson says.

Street Law is taught in collaboration with the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE). MLS teaches into the areas of law most relevant to the community and MGSE covers pedagogic training in lesson planning and classroom teaching. For Ms Henson this was the most challenging aspect of Street Law.

“Before I did it, standing up in front of a group of kids with the aim of convincing them that the law is interesting and fun filled me with terror. Being able to conquer that fear felt great”, she says.

Street Law studies are designed to enhance students’ ability to explain the law clearly and gain confidence in their public speaking skills. The subject also introduces students to career opportunities beyond traditional law pathways.

“Being involved in Street Law showed me something different I could do with my law degree”, Ms Henson says.

“I think community legal education is one of the best things to do in the post graduating, pre-admission period to prepare for getting a job as a lawyer. I’m gaining in-depth knowledge and understanding of the main practice areas at SECLS by researching and preparing for legal education sessions based on the Street Law model”.

In addition to enjoying their work, Ms Henson and Mr Botros get a chance to explore the Mt. Gambier region, where the town water supply comes from an extinct volcano and where there are limestone caves and sinkholes to explore on the way to the Coonawarra wine region. Mr Botros says “working in a regional town has a few extra challenges, but it’s satisfying to know that our programs provide legal education to people who would not have otherwise been able to access it.”

More information about Street Law can be found here.

By Cecilia Dowling