Perth is now home to 19 Piddington Justice Fellows, the first graduating cohort of a program that connects recent law graduates struggling to find compulsory work experience with cash-strapped community legal centres.
About 500 Western Australians graduate with a law degree each year, but many struggle to complete work experience required to become fully fledged professionals as firms are typically unwilling to take on the risk and associated administration and insurance costs.
These conditions led Perth lawyer Nicholas van Hattem to set up the Piddington Justice Project, an educational program that has partnered with Australian National University and community legal centres The Humanitarian Group, Tenancy WA, Street Law WA and the Environmental Defenders Office.
Nick van Hattem told Business News while he had planned for 30 participants in the first cohort, only 19 were accepted, not from a lack of applicants, which numbered 60, but because the centres were very discerning in which graduates they agreed to take on.
“The community legal centres only wanted to take the very best students,” he said.
“Even though they’ll be working for free for 80 days, the CLCs said it’s so much work to train them up, we only want to do that for people who are going to be exceptional.”
Mr van Hattem said while at this stage he was sticking with ANU, he had fielded offers from other universities and maintained a keen interest in eventually becoming a registered training organisation operating nation-wide.
However, after raising almost $40,000 through crowdfunding, with $1,000 per participant going to the community legal centres to encourage them to take on the law graduates, Mr van Hattem is also looking for greater financial support from the host education provider.
Students pay $10,000 for the course, most of which goes towards their education requirements including paying teaching staff, although some do it pro-bono.