Lawyers with a desire to do good
There’s no shortage of advice out there that volunteering can aid career progress, boosting many of the skills that employers are looking for. But for ACU law graduate Harmonie Cribbes, the motivation to step up and help came long before she’d even decided on a career path.
While still in high school, Harmonie watched a documentary on Australia’s offshore detention regime. The film explored the real impact of the nation’s hard-line approach to deterring asylum-seekers.
“I was shocked and my immediate response was to think of ways I could help people forced to leave their own country,” she recalls. “The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I wanted to work with refugees, so I chose to study law and started my ACU degree in 2014.”
Two years later, Australia’s largest not-for-profit provider of legal services to refugees made an urgent call-out seeking law undergraduates to assist with visa applications. Since 1998, Refugee Legal has helped many thousands of clients with their claims to asylum, transforming the lives of displaced people from over 100 countries.
Harmonie Cribbes was among those who answered the organisation’s call.
“I started out volunteering at Refugee Legal for one day a week,” she says. “I was working with clients, doing interviews, shadowing lawyers and getting a sense of the structure of the legal process, rather than just the social justice aspects and the injustice of what these people have to go through.”
After completing her Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts in 2018, Harmonie secured a permanent role with Refugee Legal. She now holds the crucial role of volunteer coordinator, and is responsible for recruiting budding lawyers like her younger self to help the organisation in its work.
“Being able to partner with ACU and other universities, working with students at the start of their legal journey, it’s really gratifying,” says Harmonie, who has also worked as Refugee Legal’s fundraising and training administrator.
“What I’ve found is that the students who arrive here to do pro bono work aren’t just here to build their own experience – they’re here to share what they’ve learnt at university, to use their skills to help our clients in navigating a system that is very complex.”
Pro bono promise
At the heart of ACU’s Thomas More Law School is an undertaking to stand up for people in need, and issues that matter.
Law undergraduates are required to complete at least 80 hours of pro bono service during their degree, opting to assist many worthy causes.
“[It’s] a very active pro bono program, where students eagerly undertake this service in the community before they graduate,” says Patrick Keyzer, Dean of the Thomas More Law School and Professor of Law and Public Policy at ACU. “I think it’s a wonderful program and I’m an enthusiastic supporter of it.”
Harmonie Cribbes says the pro bono program was among the main reasons she chose to study law at ACU.
“The social justice element has always been really important to me, and I think that’s the case for most law students who attend ACU – it aligns with their value set,” she says.
“Having pro bono work as a requirement of your law degree can open doors that you might not know are there if you study at another university.
“To have to almost force yourself to search for something that speaks to your interests, it turns you towards opportunities that can have a positive impact, and makes you see that there are so many organisations and so many chances to give back to the community while practicing in the legal profession.”
In Refugee Legal’s latest volunteer recruitment round, the organisation took in 13 students from the Thomas More Law School, with an even bigger intake expected later in the year.
Volunteer opportunities are facilitated by the pro bono placement and work-integrated learning teams at ACU’s Faculty of Law and Business, giving students the chance to experience and reflect upon the practice of law in a real-world setting.
As is the case with many pro bono legal placements, those who volunteer for Refugee Legal often choose to stay on long after they’ve reached the 80 hours required to complete their degree. Since the beginning of ACU’s pro bono program, law undergraduates have delivered more than 20,000 hours of volunteer service with a vast array of organisations.
“That’s one the great things,” says Harmonie Cribbes. “Just through the history of being in this role and coming from ACU myself, I know once they see the amazing impact they’re having, many ACU students continue volunteering for the duration of their degree, which is just wonderful.
“Without them, we couldn’t provide the level of service we provide, and we’re very grateful to all of our volunteers for the legal assistance they give to people seeking asylum, refugees and other disadvantaged migrants.”
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