Mr Shaun McCarthy: On the UON Legal Centre and the move to NeW Space
We recently had the chance to sit down for a chat with Mr Shaun McCarthy on information about the UON Legal Centre, his career highlights as well as student insight into the Juris Doctor (JD) and the embedded Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice.
Shaun is the Director of University of Newcastle Legal Centre (UNLC). He provides clinical supervision to law students at the UNLC and teaches into the Law School's Practice Program, Bachelor of Laws and Juris Doctor degrees.
GS: As a member of the UON Law School, you have achieved much in your career. Is there any single thing that stands out as a highlight?
Shaun: Being Director of the University of Newcastle’s (UON) Legal Centre has to be a career highlight for me. Having professed to champion a Juris Doctor program that would focus on “classroom to client” theory and practice, the Legal Centre has been a great platform for students’ personal and professional development of applied law. It has also provided my colleagues and I with an opportunity to cultivate the potential in our students as they engage and problem solve their way to become lawyers.
Being a lawyer is not just about text, case studies and theoretical argument. While it is those things, a great theoretical lawyer will find themselves ultimately challenged when they step into their first case if they have been a student of law in the lecture theatre only. To be a lawyer means you experience the law – at school, in observing matters in a new light and taking meaningful steps to better someone’s outlook and situation in life. Using the skills learned, the Legal Centre at UON has allowed our students to take these invaluable steps ahead of their peers studying at other institutions.
What does the UON Legal Centre do? Can anyone use it?
Shaun: Yes it is open to anyone with many clients coming from a disadvantaged background or people who don’t have the financial means to seek paid legal advice. The drop-in Legal Centre clinics have become an invaluable community resource for people for whom access to legal advice on their issues would otherwise be unavailable. Our students deal with all sorts of issues at the Centre; in areas where they might be feeling a little uncertain of their knowledge or skills for applying the law. Students are often required to assist clients in an area of legal complexity but have the benefit of close supervision of qualified legal professionals. Our clients are comforted by the knowledge that the advice they receive is of the highest quality.
Do you think the Juris Doctor Program at UON has anything in particular that sets it apart from other similar degrees?
Shaun: Our Law on the Beach outreach service is an absolute standout. Now in its 14th year, most students tell me they could think of only a few things they would rather be doing than being at work, on a beautiful Newcastle summer’s day, beachside. Law on the Beach has provided people from all walks of life a very accessible opportunity to access the law. Our students frequently talk about their many conversations with clients that start along the lines of: I didn’t know where to go or where to even begin until I saw you set up here.
Word has it your Faculty has moved to new premises?
Shaun: I haven’t heard of another institution making such an investment in providing the best legal infrastructure and practical environment for learning as UON in recent times. The moot court room is a fabulous space enabling students to undertake intensive advocacy exercises. The facilities and technology that have been included in this space gets everyone excited. Personally, I’m blown away at the facilities. I can’t wait to bring my first group through and conduct our first mock trial in this space. It’s truly something else, and something all at UON can be proud of. Sitting a block up from the newly-built, beautiful and functional Law Courts on Hunter Street, our students are well-positioned to embrace the access to Newcastle’s best law in practice…. at their doorstep.
Do you ever think about the things your students take away from their JD program through UON Faculty of Law?
Shaun: I hope they’ll reflect on all the wonderful opportunities we shared through their learning. Pro bono and public interest law might not be to every budding lawyer’s taste. However, the experience of learning the value of making a difference, little or big, for clients who come to see us is something I know will shape any lawyer in some way at some time in their long careers. Through our program they learn that trust, well-judged guidance and wise advice are highly valued commodities to clients and to employers. They can reflect on real casework at postgraduate interviews in the ‘real world’.
Our students have had the opportunity to undertake highly meaningful work at the Legal Centre including public interest cases such as our work assisting refugees and investigating possible miscarriages of justice.
Having such experiences as these – to truly advocate for a better outcome – is such a privilege and having this experience embedded in one’s practical study of the law offers our students a distinct advantage.