With assistance from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and BABSEACLE, Cantho University is in the process of establishing an accredited Clinic Legal Education (CLE) program. CLE is new in Vietnam and therefore the UNDP is financially supporting selected lecturers to take up placements with BABSEACLE’s network of universities in Australia and Southeast Asia to participate in more established programs and apply their experiences to strengthen CLE programs in Vietnam.
I was lucky to be selected for the visiting placement in the University of Newcastle Legal Centre in Australia. The UNLC is both a community legal service and a teaching facility for law students. Formed in 1994 as an initiative of the Newcastle Law School (NLS), the UNLC provides the centerpiece for the Professional Program which is an accredited provider of Practical Legal Training (PLT). The NLS has developed an excellent reputation for the quality of its academic and professional programs. It has a track record of success in placing graduates in law firms, government departments and organizations in Australia and abroad for over 20 years.
The UNLC is renowned for innovative legal education in Australia, through an intensive clinical placement program for students integrated with academic studies. By working with the Centre’s Barristers and Solicitors and assisting real clients with real legal problems, students gain skills and experience in the practice of law. The UNLC also runs as a community legal centre, providing free legal advice and assistance to citizens in Newcastle City and the Hunter Valley. The operations of the UNLC are directed to continuing to assist disadvantaged members of the community, focusing on those people with limited financial means or matters in the public interest.
At the UNLC, my main activities include opportunities to observe the Professional Program, including attending in-client interviews by law students at advice sessions and observing legal advice by the professional solicitors at the centre. I also attended many seminars and lectures on legal practice subjects, such as Family Law, Constitutional Law, Commercial Law, Property Law and participated in discussions about professional conduct, civil litigation practice tribunals, civil procedure and family law practice. Observing the operation of both the legal system and the legal education system in Australia helped me to keep an open mind. In particular, I looked for difficulties and challenges in Australia that could be reduced or avoided when we develop these new law areas in Vietnam in the future. Much knowledge about the “Right to Life”, “The Right to Silence” and same-sex relationships were added to my ideas for research in the future. In addition, I gave a presentation about the CLE program in my University and free legal advice in Vietnam to the students in the Professional Conduct Class. That was one of the most interesting experiences in the period since I started my visiting placement in the UNLC.
Besides activities in the legal centre, I visited several trials and observed Courtroom etiquette. I learned that the Judge, Jury, Barristers and Solicitors are vital elements of the Australian court system. Through the trials in the Supreme Court, District Courts, Family Court and Local Court of NSW, I learned a lot about the trial process and cultural issues in Australia. I discussed with staff and students issues with legal education and the legal system which we are developing in order to resolve disputes in Vietnam. In addition, I met and spoke not only with staff of the UNLC but also with practicing solicitors, barristers and judges in Newcastle City who shared their knowledge and understanding with me. I also attended a meeting with lawyers at Herbert Smith Freehills, a law firm in Sydney, to discuss the Access to Justice and CLE programs in Vietnam.
With over one in four of Australia’s 22 million people born overseas, having the chance to observe, discuss and exchange ideas with many different cultures is a great life experience for me. Distinctive cultural features in Australia are strongly influenced by the mix of Indigenous cultures and other cultural influences from American and neighboring Asian countries. This is multiculturalism, which makes for a colorful life style. Most people in Australia seem to know and comply with the law, compared with many countries in Asia.
Besides knowledge and experience, I have had the chance to practice and improve my skills which I learned in a CLE program in Vietnam. In particular, weekly reflective journals helped me learn from my experiences and observations. This process helped me to re-capture, re-think and re-evaluate situations and activities and make decisions about my experiences. I have found that the professional program of the UNLC not only equips students with the framework, knowledge and skills integral to legal practice but also appropriate professional values and attitudes towards learning. In addition, the UNLC provides a professional development experience for a clinical legal educators like me. I have learned a lot from a successful clinic program and how to run a successful course. I believe lessons and ideas which I got from this placement will strongly support the development of my CLE program in Cantho University. With my new ideas and plans, I hope I will be able to apply useful knowledge and skills into teaching law students and organizing community legal teaching for vulnerable people and strengthen our CLE programs in Vietnam.