An off-campus, inter-professional, outreach clinic for law and social work at The University of Newcastle.

tamara blakemore and shaun mccarthy

Dr Tamara Blakemore, Head of Discipline Social Work, Tamara.Blakemore@newcastle.edu.au
and Shaun McCarthy, Director UON Legal Centre, Shaun.Mccarthy@newcastle.edu.au University of Newcastle

Law on the Beach is a free legal advice clinic conducted by Newcastle Law School over summer. The clinics are held in the Newcastle Surf Club and aim to make seeking legal advice more approachable and accessible for the community. In the last three years social work students have worked alongside law students to provide deep inter-professional learning opportunities for both student cohorts, enabling them to draw upon their respective professional responsibilities and at the same time generating a commitment to social justice. In the process, trust, respect and an appreciation of role and purpose between the students is developed.

Full details of 'Sand, Surf, Social Work and Law: inter-professional learning and practice at the University of Newcastle'

Disciplines included in the WIL activity

Law and Social Work

Model of WIL activity

Industry/community based placement, off-campus clinic

Brief description of WIL activity

Law on the Beach is a free legal advice clinic conducted by Newcastle Law School over summer. The clinics are held in the Newcastle Surf Club and aim to make seeking legal advice more approachable and accessible for the community. In the last three years social work students have worked alongside law students to provide deep inter-professional learning opportunities for both student cohorts, enabling them to draw upon their respective professional responsibilities and at the same time generating a commitment to social justice. In the process, trust, respect and an appreciation of role and purpose between the students is developed.

Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation

This WIL collaboration between the disciplines at The University of Newcastle (UON) has grown out of an established program called ‘Law on the Beach’ which has operated at UON for the last 15 years. However, over the last 3 years, this outreach clinic has evolved to include an inter-professional offering involving social work and law students working alongside social work practitioners and academics and University of Newcastle Legal Centre lawyers and pro bono lawyers. The inclusion of both disciplines has enabled clients to be assisted in a more holistic way and facilitates better service to the community of Newcastle.

Who benefits from the WIL activity?

Inter-professional WIL in this outreach clinic setting is not only valuable in supporting the work readiness and professional practice of students/graduates, it also has strong application to complex social issues and represents an innovative point of engagement and benefit with and for the local community. Alumni working in industry are recruited as pro bono lawyers to work alongside the students. The lawyers are able to count their time towards their Australian Pro Bono Centre requirements. The UON Legal Centre engages the legal profession to assist in ‘warm’ referrals for client casework which is beyond the resources of the Centre.

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

While most WIL activities are discipline specific or even some are inter, multi or trans-disciplinary, what differentiates this collaboration between law and social work disciplines is its inter-professional approach. Inter professional education and practice is different from inter, multi or trans-disciplinary practice due to the focus on inter-professional learning in a collaborative problem-solving framework. Lawyers and social workers professional paths often intersect and overlap due to the nature of their professions and intersections with their clients and workplaces, as such, preparing graduates for practice through experiencing inter-professional partnerships is beneficial for future practitioners.

How adaptable is the WIL activity to other disciplines, sectors, teaching practices etc?

This collaboration between the Faculty of Business and Law and the Faculty of Education and Arts is mutually beneficial for pedagogical development not only between these disciplines but as an exemplar for other disciplines at UON and beyond. Already interest has been expressed by other disciplines at UON for involvement in this inter-professional model, with consideration being given to expanding the range of disciplines participating at the beach clinics to include business and financial students and academics. This practice of inter-professional WIL could be extended to other complementary disciplines and sectors, including the vocational education sector, where professional paths intersect.

How sustainable is the WIL activity beyond its immediate implementation?

Law on the Beach has demonstrated sustainability and growth over the past 15 years– addressing the need for WIL placements for law students and unmet need for free legal services for disadvantaged populations. The introduction of inter-professional learning and service provision with the inclusion of Social Work has strengthened capacity of the service to meet the needs of an increasing number of clients with very clearly intertwined social and legal issues. The sustainability of the program is supported by active engagement of alumni and industry professionals across both disciplines and through wider community service sector promotion, support and post-clinic engagement.

How is the success of the WIL activity evaluated?

Through evaluative research of the program, insights on the lessons gained have been able to be identified and reported at conferences, and in a pending publication. While both disciplines voiced their own prejudices about the other discipline at the outset, through the process of participating in this inter-professional WIL experience, students express an increased respect for and understanding of the other profession, dispelling their held stereotypical views. The research showed that benefits to students through participation were many and varied, some lessons being common to both disciplines while others were specific to either law or social work.

What are the wider impacts of the WL activity beyond completion?

Impacts of the Law on the Beach clinic post completion extend to community members accessing the service, the broader service sector, participating students, practitioners and academics. Community members accessing the service benefit through warm referrals and assistance in navigating available supports with the wider sector of support services in turn benefits from increased reach, access and engagement with hard to reach groups. Additionally there are parallel learnings and benefits to practitioners, academics and students involved who all increase their practice capacity and employability through increased inter-professional knowledge, skills, demonstrated behaviours, mentoring and role-modelling, confidence and connections across disciplines and industry.

How does the WIL activity approach the preparation, implementation and reflection phases of WIL?

Prior to commencement, the law and social work students are prepared together. Students’ interview clients who attend the clinic, problem solve legal issues and support needs and provide advice under supervision. Students are able to observe each other, discuss different knowledge and approaches and work on solutions together, calling on assistance from lecturers and practitioners in support of this learning. Following the experience, a written reflective exercise and reflective discussions focused on ethical and professional frameworks, theoretical and conceptual foundations in each profession, provide a unique opportunity for deep learning due to the urgency created in the clinic context.

What are the learning outcomes of the WIL activity and how do they link to graduate attributes?

Through inter-professional immersive learning and open communication, students from both disciplines are able to examine any discipline bias and tensions in a supportive environment. According to the law and social work program convenors, developing intensive processes and spaces for complex problem solving, client engagement, and inter professional practice in a ‘real life’ context extends the analytical, interpersonal, empathic and critical capacity learning outcomes across each discipline. This WIL activity exemplifies UON’s graduate attributes and institutional values of having an enduring commitment to equity and social justice, preparing graduates who make a difference, and having a shared future with our communities.

What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

Student evaluation of the initiative highlights “the opportunity to sit with real-life complex practice issues was most valuable in challenging assumptions about knowledge, skills, power and profession”. Inter-professional WIL represents a critical next step for the future of WIL above and beyond ‘internships’ ‘placements’ and ‘service learning’. Future plans for the activity aim to extend opportunities for broader discipline involvement, focusing on responsive community embedded practice to regional issues. City based space for inter-professional, industry-engaged practice will ensure the learning opportunities and social good achieved by this activity are not curtailed to the summer session of the University timetable.

Year/s of study covered by the activity

This inter-professional WIL activity is designed for both second year Juris Doctor, 4th year Bachelor of Laws (Hons) students, and latter year Bachelor of Social Work (Hons) students.

University of Newcastle students conducting an off-campus, inter-professional, outreach clinic for law and social work.