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Northumbria University student Martin Wilson has become the first student to win a month working in the pro bono office of Australia’s Monash University on an all expenses paid trip, courtesy of Irwin Mitchell.
As reported in The Lawyer (21 June 2004), national firm Irwin Mitchell is behind the scholarship, which is open to third-year students at Northumbria University. The law firm has pledged £1,000 in support of the initiative, as part of its support of the groundbreaking work undertaken by the university’s student law office.
Northumbria University runs one of the country’s most progressive student law offices, and is unusual in the sheer scope of its work. Each year the students take on several hundred cases, advising and representing the public for free as part of their studies. The cases range from small claims to major miscarriage of justice appeals to the highest courts.
Philip Plowden, the associate dean responsible for the Student Law Office, said: “We have a huge Student Law Office of 150 students taking part in a unique four-year degree. The students split into groups in the fourth year and take on between 400 and 500 cases. Because the final fourth year is all compulsory live work, students are able to bypass the LPC and the bar course.”
The scholarship was first mooted by Irwin Mitchell following a visit to the university by Mike Napier, the Attorney-General’s Pro Bono Envoy and senior partner at the firm. Plowden said: “The firm had been operating in Newcastle for a year and had thought about funding a scholarship. Mike Napier came up, saw what we did, and was impressed. I cheekily asked for a £1,000 scholarship and we got it.”
The award is available to the third-year student who best demonstrates a commitment to pro bono in their work while preparing for work in the Student Law Office. Plowden and the panel of judges interviewed eight top students, finally settling on Martin Wilson, who is currently preparing for his time at Monash.
“We chose him because of his academic achievement and also because we could see that he really would benefit from the experience,” explained Plowden. “We were aiming for a student who had both academic skill and the ability to apply it in a practical environment. We also wanted to get somebody before they’d done the live work clinic. I think what Wilson will take with him throughout his career will be a solid pro bono impetus.”