Getting involved in pro bono

Associate Martina Pasqualino talks about her pro bono secondment experience and why every young lawyer should get involved.

How did you get involved?

I have been doing pro bono work for the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service (HPLS) since my earliest days at MinterEllison. The first time I visited the HPLS clinic was during my summer clerkship and I enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t wait to return.

Each clinic visit was a unique experience. I thrived on the challenge of finding a way to help each person who walked through the door with a myriad of legal and non-legal problems. While every client's story was different, there were many shared experiences of homelessness, domestic violence and mental illness. Some common legal problems faced by HPLS clients are unpaid fines, civil debts, housing, social security and discrimination.

What type of work do you do?

The type of work I do has changed over the years as my role within HPLS has evolved from junior lawyer, to supervising lawyer, to HPLS coordinator.
As a junior lawyer, I assisted with client interviews at the clinic and took primary carriage of HPLS matters back at the office. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to go on secondment to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), where I worked across the civil and criminal practice of HPLS. My work ranged from interviewing clients in prison, preparing evidence for hearings, negotiating with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and instructing counsel during litigation. I also spent a lot of time on my feet representing clients in the state courts and tribunals. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to be gaining so much hands-on legal experience in the early stage of my career.

After I returned from secondment, I began supervising HPLS matters and taking the lead at the clinic, which was a fantastic way to build on my experience.
For the past two years I have also managed the HPLS practice at MinterEllison, together with my co-coordinator - Ivan Li. We have a large team of lawyers who volunteer with HPLS alongside working in their usual practice groups. It's a really exciting time to be involved with pro bono strategy at MinterEllison as we're constantly improving and expanding the program.

What do you feel you get out of your pro bono work and why would you encourage others to get involved?

I have always felt a strong sense of responsibility to use my legal skills to make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable people, and working with HPLS has allowed me to do just that.

The work has also provided me with an opportunity to run matters from start to finish, which is invaluable experience as a young lawyer. It's an excellent way to learn practice management and other soft skills that are essential to being an effective lawyer.

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