Now in its eighth year at Caxton Legal Centre, the Consumer Law Advice Clinic offers students at the University of Queensland an opportunity to work alongside its experienced consumer lawyers on consumer credit-related files for vulnerable clients.
Amanda Hess, the current clinic supervisor, has been with the clinic even longer than it has been with Caxton, having been seconded in the mid-2000s from her then employer (Blakes) when the clinic was operated by the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH).
Each semester the Consumer Law Advice Clinic takes in four to six students who are nearing the end of their law degree, giving them intensive training along with client work. Like Amanda, many students maintain a relationship with Caxton well after their clinical experience has finished, coming back as volunteers or taking on pro bono coordinator roles in firms after graduation.
While with the clinic, students help clients with a range of problems, from dealing with training providers signing up young people to unsuitable courses, through to working out whether the latest iteration of a particular business’s consumer lease product might be in breach of the law. They write letters and make calls, draft documents and help people lodge disputes with external dispute resolution schemes such as FOS. For particularly tricky cases, students can help prepare a brief to a barrister or a pro bono firm.
“For many participants it is an eye-opening experience seeing the human impact of business practice. It can be distressing work, but for those students who come to the clinic believing in an open marketplace and lower regulation, many leave with a deeper appreciation for the nuances of what that means for vulnerable consumers,” Amanda said.
The Consumer Advice Law Clinic may be small, but it is delivering big value –a real success story for partnerships between universities, community legal centres and the private sector.