How our International Support Team helps graduates feel confident.
Since 1972, Leo Cussen Centre for Law has delivered Practical Legal Training (PLT) so law graduates can attain their Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP). The hard work and dedication of our graduates culminates in their admission as a lawyer and eligibility to practice the law.
As an organisation, our mission is to continue to strengthen and support the administration of justice and the legal system by providing high quality education and training in legal practice and the law. Leo Cussen was established in 1972 pursuant to a statute of the Victorian Parliament to assist with this mission and now operates as a not-for-profit organisation.
Keeping true to our mission, we have spent the past 18 months embarking on a period of organisational change and reviewing the way we teach and mentor our graduates. One of the guiding principles is the concept of the ‘Whole Lawyer’, being that a lawyer should have technical capability, human skills, character and adaptability. This process has not only transformed the way we deliver our PLT program, but the role we play in supporting the wider legal profession through diversity and connection.
In guiding our graduates through their PLT, as lawyers and mentors, we are in a unique position to witness the challenges faced by many emerging lawyers over many years. These challenges are particularly present in our graduates who come from a culturally and/or linguistically diverse background and international graduates.
Diversity Starts with Education
Each year Leo Cussen teaches and mentors a large international cohort of graduates Australia wide and overseas. The value that our international graduates bring to Leo Cussen – and the law more broadly – has led to the establishment of a dedicated International Support Team over a decade ago.
The Leo Cussen in-house International Support Team work to provide a safe space for international graduates. The role of this team includes organising regular social events, access to counselling and wellbeing services and access to a panel of migration lawyers. During the Covid-19 lockdowns in Victoria, this often-included delivery of meals or grocery vouchers (donated by staff) to ensure that the international students, who were often in great periods of visa uncertainty, were able to be fed and supported.
Upon commencement at Leo Cussen, the International Support Team contacts every international graduate to ensure there is a personal point of connection. Experience has shown the most effective tool in the beginning of this journey is listening and engaging with our international graduates to understand the unique challenges they may face in living outside their country of origin. We then have the knowledge and ability to make any necessary adjustments for the graduates to thrive. This fits within our philosophy that if the whole person can thrive in the context of education and work, they are more likely to make a positive contribution to the community around them.
Within this group, some international graduates come from a refugee background and their experiences are often characterised by exposure to violence. This often results in loss, persecution, forced displacement and a protracted and complex resettlement process. Upon arrival in Australia, these graduates often face barriers in gaining stable employment, securing affordable housing and learning English. This may also be while managing the effects of trauma, loss and separation.
In these circumstances, the International Support Team can provide certainty and consistency to the experience of the graduate, to make sure their skills are enhanced and the transition into the profession is a positive one.
Insights for the Profession
The aim of our engagement with our international graduates is to foster and grow confidence so that barriers to being admitted to practice law are minimised. In actioning this, there are flow-on effects for the profession and society in general, allowing larger sections of our community can more readily access legal services. This is highlighted through the language skills that our international graduates offer.
While we may not always be conscious of it, our legal system and courtrooms use terminology from three languages – English, Latin and French. As legal practitioners we are trained to understand how these languages are applicable in a legal context. For many people within our community, none of these languages are familiar. The 2022 census in Australia recorded that 27.6% of our population were not born in Australia, with many speaking a language at home other than English. This data requires significant examination and reflection on the needs of the community more broadly and the impacts it has on the community’s ability to access legal services. An example of this is in the availability of a lawyer who has the language skills to communicate with a person who requires a legal document to be drafted or represented in court in a direct and meaningful manner. The ability for a client to speak with a lawyer in their first language, if that language is not English, could remove a significant barrier to accessing legal advice and support. Commercially this has implications for law firms and their ability to reach a wider client base. Fostering and developing this sector of the profession also makes sense for the clients that we serve. The inclusion of an international graduate or new lawyer in a workplace may broaden the scope of clients able to be supported within the community, because they have someone able to advise them in their preferred language.
Hopes for the Profession
Despite the overarching access to justice benefits, Leo Cussen has felt great joy in meeting and understanding people in Australia who have different life experiences. Many friendships have been formed over the years, which add personal value to us as legal educators and increases the confidence of our graduates to enter the profession. The journey into law should be supportive and enjoyable. To encourage this, our International Support Team helps graduates have a fun and supportive experience at Leo Cussen, so they feel confident as they enter the legal profession.
 Australia Bureau of Statistics (2021) Cultual Diversity: Census [https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/people-and-communities/cultural-diversity-census/latest-release#key-statistics], ABS Website, accessed 9 March 2023.