London, Tehran, and Back

Holly C., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
A Legal internship at Lawyers Without Borders, United Kingdom, October 2019

 

Hello! I’m Holly, a Law and Business student passionate about advancing human rights.

Lawyers Without Borders (LWOB) seemed like the perfect home for my International Legal Placement. Like all other LWOB outlets, the London office is dedicated to protecting marginalised persons across the globe through advocacy and legal aid. LWOB’s purpose is simple: support organisations that provide justice for those who cannot access it.

I joined LWOB on board as a legal researcher; I was promptly tasked with researching and creating a memo for marginalised Iranians who have had their personal property confiscated on account of human rights violations.

Over the course of this internship, I canvassed legal precedent in other Islamic Republics, investigated societal and political constructs that perpetuated such violations, and provided advice as to how non-governmental organisations could assist victims in recovering assets.

Throughout law school, we are constantly asked ‘why’ we do what we do. But we are infrequently asked ‘for whom?’.

This internship was an immense challenge and privilege. I felt honoured to be assisting individuals who had faced adversity that we cannot fathom in the West; yet, I was daunted at the responsibility of playing a part in shaping their future.  The fact that these people had already endured so much only increased the pressure. I was amazed at how the staff at LWOB worked so tirelessly for their clients in a resource-constrained and high-pressure environment.

Amidst a backdrop of a cold, grey and busy London, our decisions at a desktop dictated the outcomes of people’s livelihoods, homes and property on the other side of the world.

In many ways, my days looked like that of any other law student. However, rather than researching contract law precedent, I was scouring cases for rulings on governmental victimisation of LGBTIQ communities; rather than accessing Austlii, I was downloading a VPN to search Iranian, Iraqi and Pakistani legal databases.

This experience no doubt developed fundamental legal research capabilities. More importantly, though, I built a tolerance for risk, learning invaluable problem-solving techniques in situations that were rife with legal uncertainty. I learnt how to make decisions about what course of advice to include in my task memo. This, in turn, fostered my ability to discern reason from irrational fear in high-pressure situations.

More broadly, I was exposed to a novel culture, language and social structure. In this way, I developed an appreciation of the complexities in navigating to cross cultural communication during delicate legal proceedings.

Finally, I learnt the importance of ensuring all material is appropriate for the client in question. The humanitarian and legal aid sector has a reputation in some parts of the world for generating solutions without consulting those who will be most affected – that is, solving the problem from a Western perspective which fails to appreciate local customs and norms. As such, the advice provided for this groups must differ greatly if it is to be effective. Cases such as these demonstrated the crucial importance of always keeping the client front and centre, even when they are more than 5000 kilometres away.

My placement at LWOB in London was formative, both personally and professionally. Yet, development did not come in the way I expected. This internship was a valuable stepping stone towards a career within humanitarian law. Yet, it also illustrated the limitations of providing aid within the legal system. If we are to achieve meaningful improvements in access to justice for marginalised groups, I am now of the firm belief that legal professionals must engage in structural and political reform within the countries from where their clients originate.

Rome: Refugee Clinic, Research and Risotto

Seamus O., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
The Clinic of Immigration Law and Citizenship of the Faculty of Law at the Roma Tre University (January 2019)

During January of 2019 I was fortunate enough to participate in the Clinic of Immigration and Citizenship at the Rome Tre University located in Rome, Italy.

The streets of Italy

Whilst my time at the Clinic was short lived, the amount of technical, cultural and social knowledge I gained will last a life time. In a nut shell, the Clinic assists migrants and asylum seekers in knowing their rights and enhancing their protection by offering them qualified assistance whilst also being an advocate for refugees in Italy. My experience can be broken down to three main parts: Exploring Rome, researching and assisting refugees in the Clinic.

The Clinic

Once or twice a week the team of law students and lawyers would open the doors to the clinic (a class room). Here is where the students and lawyers meet with current refugees and assist them with the migration and legal process. It was incredibly interesting and at times quite confronting to see what these people had gone through back in their respective countries, and then what they were having to go through once they arrived in Italy. Given recent change to the refugee policy in Italy, I couldn’t help but empathise with the refugees and share the frustration of the students and lawyers working in the Clinic.

The Colosseum

My Research

As the Clinic only opened one or two days a week, I was given a research task to assist the Clinic in their Country of Origin Information (COI) program. The COI program involved a group of one professor/lawyer and 5 students working with the Court of Italy in preparing COI reports on various countries/areas. The Court recently requested a report on the persecution of Chinese Christians in China. Given the Report was to be written in Italian, I was given the task to gather as many reports/articles/accounts on the topic and summarise the findings for the team. Whilst at times it felt I was researching too much and not eating enough Pizza, it was incredible to work on a project which had a great impact on future refugees in Italy and the Italian justice system.

Of course, when in Rome do as the Romans do. It was incredible to live in a city full of ancient history, art, a rich culture and of course, delectable food. There are endless sights to see in Rome and a relic around every corner, a real treat for any research break or day off. I would like to thank all QUT and Rome Tre staff for assisting me with this experience all steps of the way.

And of course… Italian food!

Law exchange to Canada

When I decided to come on exchange to Canada, I wanted to go somewhere different, so I chose a city I had never heard of before- Halifax, Nova Scotia. Before I arrived here, I spent a week on the West Coast of Canada, and whenever I told anyone there I was coming to study in Halifax, the response was always the same- Why?? I was a little deterred but still excited (and as I have since learnt, for good reason!). My flight into Halifax arrived in a flurry of snow. I was like a child on Christmas looking out the window but got a cold punch of reality once I left the heated building. The first skill you need to learn upon arrival in Canada is the art of layering your clothes. Inside every building, the heating is raging full bore, and you have to remove gloves, beanies (or ‘touques’ as the Canadians call them), scarves, coats and sometimes jumpers too in order to feel comfortable, then load them all back on again when its time to leave the building.

The morning I arrived in Halifax was orientation day for exchange students, so I had to race to Fenwick Tower (the tallest building east of Montreal, pictured below) where Dalhousie University houses its international and exchange students. We occupy the 32nd and 33rd floors (top two floors) and have the most amazing views of the harbour, downtown and suburban Halifax. The floor is all open plan and is basically a huge common room and kitchen with bedrooms and bathrooms forming the edges. In Fenwick this semester is a mix of 3 Aussies, 5 Kiwis, a bunch of French boys, a chick from Norway, another from Beunos Aires, and a few Chinese people… quite a mix! We all trekked over to Dalhousie University for the day to learn the necessary ins and outs of life and study in Halifax.

Here’s a few fun facts about Halifax and Canada: Blue sky and sun does not mean it is warm, Halifax has the second most pubs and bars per capita in the world (great news for the party students), Canadians can rarely (if ever) tell the difference between a New Zealand and Australian accent, pedestrians have COMPLETE right of way- even if you step out onto the road in front of a bus, it will stop for you, you have to pay to receive text messages and phone calls (it also costs extra to have people’s names come up on your screen when they call), they don’t have Visa debit cards and they still use cheques (checks in Canadian spelling) to pay for things! So backwards in some ways! It is also socially acceptable to wear ugg boots (everywhere: to class, the supermarket, out for lunch etc) and the boys here haven’t been introduced to jean brands such as Nudie or Ksubi, and still get around in the ugliest baggie jeans (often paired with running shoes- yep, thats right, along with uggs in public, the joggers and jean combo is quite the norm!)

We have become quite a close group at Fenwick already, despite having only been here a few weeks. Class is slightly different to QUT. For law- everyone is post grad (except me!) so I’m the youngest in all my classes and noone can believe I began studying law straight out of high school and that if I hadn’t done a double degree I would already be working as a lawyer. Also there are no tutorials. The classes are called lectures, but in reality they are ‘lectorials’ and highly interactive. I have no assignments all semester, but four 100% exams in April, with two being closed book (eeeeeek)! There is also a lot more preparation expected to be done for each class and walking into the law library is like turning on the ‘mute’ button for life- noone dares even whisper (a massive change from the entry level of the QUT law library!). Obviously another massive difference is walking to ‘school’ in the snow.. still a massive novelty which I’m sure the regular students don’t appreciate!

We get a ‘spring break’ (they call it reading week here) in February, so myself and a few of the girls from Fenwick have booked a week’s holiday to the Bahamas. As you do! The Dalplex (university gym/ sports centre) has organised a skiing/ snowboarding day trip this weekend to the closest mountain (about an hours drive). Included in the $30 price is transport, snowboard hire, lift pass and a lesson- what a bargain!

Weather in Halifax is a little bit bipolar. Some mornings are blue sky and sun (still freezing cold) but after a 2 hour lecture, you shouldn’t be surprised if you walk out into a blizzard, 60 km/ hr winds, pouring rain, light snow or any combination of those!

Canadians are the loveliest, most helpful and welcoming people I have ever come across. As soon as you open your mouth anywhere, they are ready for a chat about where you are from and more than happy to invite you to a ‘kegger’ (keg/ beer party) at their ‘buddy’s’ place on the weekend after knowing you for a whole 2 minutes! This is definitely a student city, everyone under the age of 25 seems to be a Dal student and the nightlife (as you would expect from the amount of drinking establishments) is awesome. Live music is a big thing here, and the cover bands and original songs are indescribably good!

I would recommend Halifax and Dalhousie to anyone in a heartbeat. Living costs are much the same as Brisbane and the travel opportunities from here are endless (and quite cheap!).. I’m dreading the day this exchange ends, but I will definitely be back in Canada as soon as I can afford the airfare!