Sustainability Business Clinic

Subject offered Semester 2 in 2024

What is Sustainability Business Clinic?

Sustainability Business Clinic is a unique transactional law clinic that is based at Melbourne Law School and collaborates with commercial lawyers and social and environmental community enterprises. Students are supervised in providing transactional and start-up legal information to their own clients. 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.

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Photo of Alex

Student experience

Since its inception in 2014, Sustainability Business Clinic has assisted 24 community and environmental businesses. These have included solar energy start-ups, farmers markets, community-owned renewable energy facilities, waste diversion enterprises, community gardens and rural-based food co-operatives and associations.

In 2019, Alex’s client was the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance. To assist his client, Alex conducted research and produced a memo on aspects of planning law. As Alex explains:

“I was excited to participate in the Sustainability Business Clinic for its on-the-ground efforts to promote social change. I also thought of myself as living a sustainable life. I use my reusable Keep Cup and I live on a leafy street in a high-rise apartment… I did not realise how little I knew about sustainability. The Clinic experience was an assault on the senses. I went from the boardroom of a marble-floored law firm to a farm with geese and cows, the smell of manure in the air. You see, my client was supporting the creation of a farming co-operative in the Central Highlands. They needed advice as to whether each use of land on the farm would be considered a separate land use requiring a planning permit from the local council or if they were doing something unique – by creating a multi-purpose, community managed regenerative farm that might be considered a use in and of itself for planning law. In a team, I held client interviews, drafted letters to our client and extensively researched VCAT cases. I was amazed at how quickly I became an expert in a niche area of planning law.

One aspect of the Clinic which I really enjoyed was the reflective component. I realised that being a lawyer was so much more than just having research and analytical skills. It is also about having strong personal skills so that the client feels empowered and comfortable in sharing their problems.”

What will I learn?

Students will experience what it is like to be a legal adviser to an immature well-meaning business and so will observe the legal issues confronting start up enterprises trying to achieve environmental and social goals. Students will also be able to reflect on what it means to be a lawyer, the skills of a lawyer to assist clients with their legal problems.

The subject will address:

  • The skills required of a legal advisor to support a starting-out sustainability business
  • Different ways of lawyering to achieve social and environmental good
  • The various business forms, and their advantages and risks, available to new social and community enterprises
  • The breadth of laws that operate to facilitate or frustrate business innovation in the environmental sphere
  • The typical legal issues that ‘green’ community and social businesses face
  • The need for and means of law reform to achieve greater environmental goals through locally based enterprise

Faced with their clients own particular legal problems students will research a specific law deeply and consider the best ways to translate their research into a form and knowledge that is understood by and capable of being used their clients, most of whom would never previously engaged a lawyer.

Where will I go?

The clinic is based at Melbourne Law School on the Mezzanine. But there’s a field trip. Always a field trip. And you will be required to visit your clients, who will typically be located on main campus, and your mentor lawyers, who will be in the city.

Where will this take me?

Sustainability Business Clinic is a bit like an incubator. It helps new clients grow; but also allows law students to develop skills and their practice credentials. There is no one pathway out of the clinic. But most students use their experience in the clinic to determine for themselves whether corporate legal practice is something that they might enjoy. Most students come into the clinic with an interest in environmental protection, and for those students they will see the many ways that they can use their legal skills to achieve environmental improvements.

Past clinicians have used their experience in the Sustainability Business Clinic to test their interest in private practice and have since headed into corporate practice. Some clinicians used their time to consider alternative models to provide legal support to community and social enterprises, and have opted to work within business in legal or quasi-legal roles. Others have discovered alternative, non-legal means to achieve environmental improvements using policy or business, which has included research or government policy roles.

Brad Jessup
Dr Brad Jessup

About your coordinator

Brad Jessup is a Senior Lecturer who teaches torts and is an expert in environmental law. He has written about the manifold ways law can be used to achieve environmental improvements. Before joining academia, Brad worked at a large commercial law firm for six years including advising corporate, non-profit and government clients on a wide array of legal issues and risks associated with project development, transactions and environmental incidents.

How do I apply?

Melbourne Law School Clinics recommend that students interested in the Sustainability Business Clinic attend one of our clinic information sessions aimed at providing key information and answering any questions students may have about the subject.

Information sessions and application details will be announced on the Canvas LMS JD Community.

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