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Scholarship gives Amy chance to 'change the nation'

29 January 2018


Amy Burton, Senior Associate of Salvos Legal Humanitarian, has been awarded one of Australia’s most prestigious scholarships for postgraduate study – the John Monash Scholarship.

These scholarships, sponsored by the Federal Government and a range of private and corporate donors through the John Monash Foundation, are awarded annually to about 18 people from across Australia and across different professions, who wish to study overseas.

The Foundation states that the scholarships aim to “foster leadership, expertise and international networks, as well as build Australia’s capabilities for the future”.

Amy explained that applicants have to prove, through a gruelling selection process, that they will return to Australia with their knowledge and experience and, basically “change our nation”.

“Two lawyers were chosen this time. The rest were doctors, scientists, aerospace engineers and other highly regarded professionals,” she said. “I was humbled when I saw the list of other people who won this scholarship. I still can’t believe I was selected.”

Amy has worked at Salvos Legal Humanitarian for three years, mostly in the complex and challenging area of refugee and migration law. In this time, she has seen the significant difference Salvos Legal has made in the lives of thousands of vulnerable clients, often with complex needs, who can’t afford a lawyer. Without the free legal service, which has helped about 21,000 people to date, she believes that many disadvantaged clients would lose their cases, or not fight them at all.

“We help many people, but there’s still a significant gap in access to justice in Australia. Many free legal services have faced funding cuts over the past few years, which has forced them to turn people away, perhaps because they earn slightly too much, part-own a property, or their court matter doesn’t have strong prospects of success. Most of these people still can’t afford a private lawyer though and are forced to self-represent themselves, often unsuccessfully,” Amy explained.

“This had an impact on me, especially when I know there’s so many young lawyers out there who are eager to help people in need but are unable to find a job in the legal industry.

“In the United States, they are using some really innovative approaches to improve access to justice for low and moderate incomes earners who can’t afford a private lawyer. There’s a real growth in social enterprise law firms and start-ups that are increasing access to legal services for people in need. It’s also having the added benefit of increasing employment opportunities for law graduates, especially those who aspire to work in humanitarian law.”

As a result of her scholarship, Amy now has the opportunity to study a Masters of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, in September. During the nine-month program, she will combine specialised social justice courses with innovative “start-up” law courses targeted at future legal entrepreneurs. She will also be in close proximity to many of the social enterprise law firms and start-ups being established in San Francisco.

As an additional part of her study, Amy will enrol in practical on-campus legal clinic courses, such as the Community Economic Justice Clinic, the Housing Law Clinic, the Immigration Law Clinic and the Bay Area Legal Incubator.

Through Berkeley Law’s innovative social entrepreneurship program, Amy will also undertake courses that enable her to operate sustainable law practices while serving clients of limited means and in remote locations, as well as develop the business skills necessary to establish one of Australia’s first “legal incubators”.

“There’s really nothing quite like the Berkeley program in Australia, with courses specifically targeted at entrepreneurial lawyers seeking to establish innovative social enterprises,” she said.

“I am passionate about and committed to developing innovative and effective strategies to improve access to justice in Australia,” said Amy. “I believe that all Australians deserve access to independent, unbiased and top quality legal advice.”

Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year

In addition to the John Monash Scholarship, Amy recently took out the Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year award at the Lawyers Weekly, Women in Law Awards.

Amy legally represents many survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery who come to Salvos Legal through referrals from The Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership to end Modern Slavery.

“I work closely with clients that Jenny [Stanger] and her team refer to me,” Amy explained. “Many of these are domestic workers who have been working in embassies in Canberra in really horrible conditions, yet have somehow found a way to escape.

“We also work with vulnerable people including refugees, migrant women affected by domestic violence and people who have had their permanent visas cancelled and are facing imminent deportation.

“My main work is the complex, gruelling and often emotionally challenging humanitarian migration matters – working with people who struggle to find free legal representation and who otherwise would have little hope of winning their case because of their limited English skills.

“This is what the award recognises. While I don’t need public recognition of my work to keep me motivated, it’s lovely to have the opportunity to reflect on my achievements at Salvos Legal Humanitarian and to know that I’m helping people achieve some positive outcomes in their lives.”

For Amy, working with Salvos Legal is her “dream role”.

“Salvos Legal is an innovative law firm, so I’m part of a truly new and unique venture,” she said.

“Because it’s owned by The Salvation Army I feel like I belong to something so much bigger than just a law firm, and the firm attracts people who have truly moral and ethical values. They could be working at big corporate law firms, but they’ve made the conscious decision to work at a firm where they can help people in desperate need. There’s a real energy and sense of purpose at Salvos Legal – it’s unlike any other place I’ve worked.

“I’m actually really sad to be leaving for nine months to study overseas, but I can’t wait to return to Australia with all this new knowledge so that I can hopefully develop something similar through Salvos Legal”.

By Simone Worthing

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