The program enables ACU law students to fulfil the pro bono requirements of their course through a placement opportunity within ACU’s Office of General Counsel and the Governance Directorate in Sydney. The program was established last year through the joint efforts of ACU’s General Counsel and Director of Governance, Diane Barker, National Lecturer in Charge (Pro Bono) Dominic Cudmore with the Thomas More Law School, and Careers Advisors Caroline Ryan and Kathryn Williams.
Caroline Ryan started discussions about an in-house placement opportunity after pondering how the Career Development Service within the Office of Student Success could better help ACU law students improve their employability.
She reached out to discuss her thoughts with Diane - with whom she had attended law school during her own student days.
“We had studied law in an environment where practical legal experience was difficult to obtain - so we recognised that developing real world legal skills would be an advantage for ACU graduates,” Caroline said.
Diane then gave this idea some further thought while attending the five-day Institute for Administrators in Catholic Higher Education in Boston.
“This was a transformative experience for me. We were not just looking at the ACU mission and what it means - we were challenged to come up with a way to put it into action,” Diane said.
Flight delays on the way home gave Diane time to crystallise her thoughts and sketch out a program outline.
Dominic said he was delighted to see the program outline and Diane’s wish to be of service to the students of the Thomas More Law School: “It was so wonderful to see a colleague looking to be involved with a program that sits outside their area of responsibility.”
“Applying for a placement can also help students develop skills that may not come naturally to them, such as how to present themselves for jobs in confident manner,” he said.
A pilot program was undertaken in 2018 and enabled ACU law student Stephen Last to work alongside the ACU legal and governance teams in North Sydney.
The program allowed Stephen to gain experience in range of activities including handling governance matters, legal research, legal drafting, attending client meetings, and observing meetings of the Academic Board and Senate.
“There is also an unstructured element to the program to give a real on-the-ground sense of what it’s like to work in a busy in-house legal office as part of a small team,” Diane said.
“The students have been particularly excited about the opportunity to attend meetings at the highest level such as ACU Senate and Academic Board as an observer. This has given them a real insight into how complex governance of a large not-for-profit organisation can be.”
In 2019, the project team hoped to facilitate four student placements - and Caroline began talking to ACU Indigenous Higher Education Units about incorporating a placement opportunity for Indigenous students. The first Indigenous Pro Bono Placement student is expected to commence her placement in October.
Kathryn, Diane and Dominic oversaw a competitive application process for the 2019 placements and said the team had worked hard to provide value to students throughout the process.
“Students had the opportunity to gain detailed feedback on their application so they can improve their skills and their career chances into the future.” Kathryn said.
She said it was great to work with a team that really demonstrated a ‘growth mindset’.
“We decided to expand the program to include our students in Melbourne also, but this came with a series of new challenges of how to make participation equitable. For example, how to organise travel and accommodation to attend the placement in Sydney.”
“Diane really thought outside the box to create this program, and it’s inspiring to see the care they’ve brought to the students they’ve worked with.”
Diane said she was very pleased with how her staff in legal and governance areas had embraced this program and showed real collegiality towards the students.
“I’m also particularly proud that this is a real cross-portfolio initiative. The feedback from the two students who have completed placements has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said.
Diane said she’s been able to be a referee for these students, and they have both successfully obtained paid positions at other organisations.
Caroline says this is a wonderful outcome, and the Career Development Service looks forward to the future development of this type of collaboration across other areas of the University.
The team are donating the award prize money towards expenses for future interstate students participating in the program.