COVID-19 didn’t stop QUT law students Irene Gallagher and Osanna Fa'ata'ape from continuing their crucial final-year work placements in the real world – they just transitioned to online.
Osanna and Irene are both only a semester away from graduating and were keen to continue gaining practical experience during their final year.
Fortunately, their workplaces were among the organisations able to facilitate students continuing their placements online, embracing the work-from-home style of remote working.
As part of the final-year Legal Research Capstone unit, QUT law students have the opportunity to undertake a placement with a firm or community legal centre.
Osanna completed her placement at Caxton Legal Centre and Irene did her placement at Newland Chase, an international migration consultancy, where she has worked part-time as a migration services associate for the past two years.
Both students utilised Zoom and other online tools to connect with colleagues, supervisors and clients.
Osanna (pictured above, top row centre, with fellow QUT students and her supervisor) completed her placement at Caxton as a student volunteer, working four hours per week.
She said an average day involved researching a client matter, drafting advice, receiving feedback and then discussing the contextual and practical issues involved with the matter.
During one of her online workdays, a criminal barrister even joined their Zoom session to share her experience in the private and pro bono sectors.
“The placement has solidified my desire to use my strengths and my position to make a positive impact and a meaningful difference in people’s lives,” Osanna said.
“I know that I have a heart for helping and I’m most passionate about giving a voice to the vulnerable and drawing near to those on the fringe.”
This semester, Osanna is gaining more experience through an Indigenous Justice Placement with a community organisation at Cherbourg.
Osanna is a double degree student doing a Bachelor of Business (Human Resource Management)/Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and hopes to work in advocacy and the community legal sector after graduation, or utilise her HR degree and pursue employment law.
She is a member of the QUT Pasifika Association and a student representative with the Pasifika Lawyers Association of Queensland.
She also works part-time as a QUT student ambassador, which sees her visit schools to share her uni experiences and promote tertiary study to school students.
Last year, Osanna also travelled to Vanuatu for a study tour with 10 other QUT law and justice students to learn about access to justice issues.
Irene also travelled overseas in 2019 to further her understanding of international justice issues.
She spent one month working as an intern with the Justice Centre Hong Kong – a non-profit human rights organisation.
“I also travelled to Thailand in February this year with a group of QUT students to attend the Peace Summit for Emerging Leaders (run by Humanitarian Affairs Asia and hosted at the United Nations),” she said.
“It was a 3-day conference focused on peace-building and was attended by young people from all around the world.”
Irene’s studies at QUT have been fast-tracked by enrolling through the graduate entry program and she will complete her Bachelor of Laws (Honours) degree in three years instead of the usual four years.
“I finished my arts degree at UQ and still felt a little bit lost about what direction I wanted to go with my career,” she said.
“I’d always thought about law as it gives you the opportunity to really work with people and make a difference.
“Doing the graduate entry was really good and I’m so glad I did another degree first as it meant I was more mature coming into law and had more context and experience.”
When QUT transitioned to online studying earlier this year due to COVID-19, it made little difference to Irene.
“I have done my entire degree online,” she said.
“Being able to study law as an external student has meant I’ve been able to study full-time but also work three days a week throughout my degree.
“This year I worked from home for nearly four months – including doing my QUT placement in Semester One – but two weeks ago we were able to start going back into the office one day a week.
“It’s nice to be able to see people again and bounce ideas off other people and have a chat in person.”
Irene’s role as a migration services associate involves preparing visa applications and supporting information, legal research, drafting submissions for review cases at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and liaising with clients
She said she has found the work rewarding over the past two years and is keen to continue working in migration law, particularly with asylum seekers and refugee rights, after graduating but will also keep her options open.
“I might be doing more study too as I’d like to go on and complete my PLT (Practical Legal Training) next year too,” she said.
QUT law lecturer Emily Darling, who is the unit coordinator for Legal Research Capstone, said students doing placements as part of the unit undertook a wide range of tasks depending on their employer.
“This can include legal research, drafting documents, attending court call overs via phone, and a number of other tasks,” she said.
“The placements provide students with a wonderful opportunity to learn skills they will be applying as future law graduates. Students that did placements in Semester One were able to adapt quickly to the new circumstances and make the most of working-from-home arrangements.
“In Semester Two, we have returned to face-to-face mode for many placements, although some students are also completing placements under remote working arrangements. We do normally offer some virtual placements as well as face-to-face to provide flexibility and cater for different situations.”
Work integrated learning is a feature of all QUT degrees. Information on the QUT Faculty of Law’s work integrated learning can be found here and more information about QUT internships, placements and student projects is available here.
** The QUT Virtual Open Day will be held online on August 29 and 30 to provide prospective students with information about studying at QUT next year. Register online here for your chance to win a MacBook Air.
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