Lawyers are being placed in Canberra schools to help with teenagers’ toughest problems

Canberra teenagers struggling with very grown-up issues say they are set to benefit from a new program that embeds lawyers in their schools.

Three Legal Aid ACT solicitors are being placed in Canberra’s public colleges as part of a two-year ACT Government trial welcomed by students.

“Even just within my own friendship groups, I’ve had friends in domestic violence situations, people needing to get restraining orders — which you would definitely want legal help with — as well as more common stuff like workplace rights,” Canberra College student Elizabeth Whitbread said.

She added that many of her peers were getting their P-plates and some needed legal help with driving matters.

“Those issues would really benefit from having someone trustworthy that you can talk to,” Elizabeth said.

Classmate Sam Harding said he would feel confident using the service because “if you don’t feel comfortable talking by yourself, you can always bring a friend for that support”.

‘Bringing legal services to them’

Legal Aid ACT solicitor Lauren Dreyer said even though her new clients were aged just 16 to 18, she expected to handle some challenging matters.

“It might be because families are splitting up and they themselves want some information about what’s going on.”

A young woman with glasses and her hair in a bun smiles at the camera.
Legal Aid solicitor Lauren Dreyer will be running the “drop-in” legal advice service for students at Canberra College.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Ms Dreyer said she wanted students and their families to know the service was “completely confidential” with the usual client privileges.

“We [ACT Legal Aid] have had a Youth Law Centre — so a specialist youth clinic — for quite some time now and each of us have had some experience working with young people … so we bring that experience into this role.”

ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry said the program was developed in response to student feedback and was centred on “bringing legal services to them [students], in a world that is quite complex”.

“Students and young people were telling us that they really wanted to get more education and advice about how to be an adult and legal support and aid was part of that,” Ms Berry said.

“It’s about $80,000 for a two-year pilot where Legal Aid will provide lawyers to schools once every fortnight for a drop-in legal advice service.”

She said the project has been designed to also offer solicitor-led classes for students explaining how the courts work, as well as providing information on criminal matters, employment rights, and residential tenancy disputes.

Student Sophie Thorp said she was enthusiastic about the workshops and believed they would be more useful to young people than the legal studies unit offered in the curriculum.

“The way we learn it at school, it’s sort of disconnected from our realities as students,” she said.

“We look at cases and we’re like, ‘Oh, that happened 50 years ago’ … whereas we don’t realise that it’s affecting our real lives,” Sophie said.

“Our peers — especially at this school in Canberra College — and I’m sure all schools across the ACT will benefit from Legal Aid lawyers being present,” Sam said.