In Law Week 2019, the Law Society of Western Australia launches a new, ongoing campaign, #LawyersMakeADifference, to highlight real stories of lawyers using their skills to help people in our community. In this article, Sophie Manera, Principal Solicitor of Rothstein Lawyers, shares her story.
Since December 2017 I have been the Principal Solicitor of Rothstein Lawyers, a boutique law firm in Northbridge that specialises in the areas of immigration and employment law. Prior to this I was a partner in the firm from 1 January 2017.
My background in volunteering for Centrecare Migrant Services as a university student led to me develop a keen interest in refugee and immigration law. I feel incredibly privileged to have the right to live permanently in Australia, a beautiful country of opportunity. I feel a moral responsibility to put my education to good use and give back to the community in the form of charity work and pro bono legal work. Throughout my childhood I was taught by my parents and teachers to feel grateful for what I have and to assist those with less than me. I’m glad these lessons have stuck with me!
My involvement in providing pro bono legal and migration services via the Law Society of Western Australia’s Law Access program allows me to be involved in complex refugee law matters and try to make a difference in this area.
Through my work as an immigration lawyer, I encountered a client with an incredible story. She had been a sex worker in Kenya, a slave in Dubai and the victim of domestic violence in Australia. Despite the incredible hardship she had endured as a young woman (one year younger than me – which hit close to home) her determination and resilience were an inspiration to me. I was privileged to assist her in obtaining a permanent Protection visa. Now that she’s an Australian permanent resident her intention is to study law! This young woman ended up spending a period living in a women’s refuge run by Starick. I was able to visit the women’s refuge and see first-hand the amazing work of the social workers and counsellors. I convinced the charity to become an affiliated charity for the HBF Run for a Reason and I pledged to run a half-marathon to raise money for Starick. So far I’ve raised more than $1500!
I’m also a committee member of the Western Australian branch of the Migration Institute of Australia. My involvement with the MIA allows me to connect with other lawyers and registered migration agents with similar interests and promote the migration industry. Since being involved in the MIA I have had the opportunity to organise events, prepare and present CPD seminars and become involved in several different initiatives to assist migrants in Australia. In 2018 I was awarded the MIA Service Award for my volunteer work for the MIA.
My latest area of interest is exploring the rights of temporary migrant workers in Australia. There’s a lot of overlap between immigration law and employment law, but it can be difficult to reconcile the two areas. Unfortunately, as a result, many migrant workers in Australia end up exploited and with little or no legal recourse. Often, migrants are simply too afraid to come forward. My goal for the future is to work together with the government and relevant stakeholders to create meaningful solutions to prevent migrant worker exploitation.