This week Victoria Law Foundation spoke to Youthlaw lawyer Lisa Nguyen, to find out more about Victoria’s free legal service for young people under 25. She began by telling us Harry’s story.
Harry, 19, lives in outer Melbourne. A few years ago he was the victim of a violent crime and as a result, developed post-traumatic stress disorder. Harry began self-medicating with ice, his relationship with his parents broke down and he moved in with friends. He could not cope with applying for Centrelink because of his mental health issues, so he had no income.
As a result Harry began stealing from shops for his friends in lieu of rent. Youthlaw, a legal service designed to help young people, came into contact with Harry after he was charged by police for shop thefts.
Youthlaw helped him seek drug and alcohol counselling, and mental health support. They made a plea for Harry at court and obtained a good behaviour bond. They also made a successful application to Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal to secure a lump sum payment and money to pay for ongoing counselling.
Harry’s is a classic case of the positive impact of getting legal help in time to address problems which can otherwise spiral into longterm challenges. Lisa is an outreach lawyer with Youthlaw, working with frontline youth services. She spends her time going to appointments at partner locations*, giving advice over Skype and the phone, and holding info sessions at schools and youth services.
'I also try to build up the skills of other people who work with young people and provide support to them by phone, in clinics and in training sessions, because we know that young people would often rather seek help from youth service workers than a lawyer,' she says.
Why did you get into this area of law?
'While I was studying I volunteered at Youthlaw and that was my first introduction to practising law. After that I knew I wanted to work in a community legal context. My role has given me the opportunity to assist people from a variety of different backgrounds, who often have a range of social and economic problems. It’s extremely satisfying and rewarding to be able to improve the lives of those who might otherwise be unable to obtain assistance.'
What are the most common problems Youthlaw deals with?
- Infringements (e.g. public transport, driving, tolls, parking)
- Criminal matters
- Driving offences
- Debt (e.g credit cards, mobile phones)
- Victims of crime compensation
- Car accidents.
Fines are the most common legal issue for young people, and not addressed at the start they can trigger a series of problems which makes resolution much harder. Lisa told us about one of Youthlaw’s past clients, Sally.
'Sally first came to Youthlaw after receiving a public transport fine in 2017. She has a long history of attention deficit disorder and learning difficulties and finds social situations challenging. Sally had torn a ligament in her foot and was advised to keep her foot elevated when sitting. While travelling on public transport, she was issued a fine for having her feet on a seat.' Youthlaw staff helped Sally write a letter to the Department of Transport explaining her circumstances. 'We successfully had the fines withdrawn, which was a great outcome, and Sally has had no further issues.'
What online materials are available?
- Factsheets: covering a range of topics including employment contracts, expulsion from school, discrimination, giving police your name and address, graffiti laws, hoon driving, neighbourhood disputes and going to court.
- My Rights website: a mobile-friendly tool to help teenagers find out the law on topics from tattoos and piercings, safe sex and contraception, to renting leaving school, seeing a doctor and more.
- Street Smart website: offers a practical guide to your rights on the street in relation to police, PSOs, ticket inspectors and security guards.
What’s the best way to contact Youthlaw for help?
'Youthlaw is based in the Melbourne CBD (19 King Street) at Frontyard Youth Services in King Street. We work closely with Frontyard where we run a drop-in clinic and a number of innovative outreach services including the Skype legal service for young people in regional and rural Victoria.'
- Phone – (03) 9611 2412
- Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
- drop-in legal clinic where you can see a lawyer and receive free legal advice from 2-5pm (arrive before 4.30) on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. No appointments are needed.
*Youthlaw works in partnership with Headspace centres (Bendigo, Warrnambool, Frankston, Glenroy, Dandenong/Narre Warren and Wodonga), The Bridge Youth services (Shepparton and Seymour) and Mornington Peninsula Shire youth centres (Shed 11 in Hastings, The Y Lounge in Rosebud & The Corner in Mornington). Youthlaw also visits a youth detox unit run by Youth Support and Advocacy Service twice per month to provide legal information and advice to clients, and train youth workers on common legal problems.