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This is the kind of law I want to practice

I wasn’t going to go into law. I was going to be a teacher. I come from a family of teachers – my brother is a teacher, my parents are teachers, their siblings are teachers. I wanted to do something that involved working and interacting with people.

My year 12 teacher suggested I apply for law, but I wasn’t too fussed, because in the back of my mind, I was going to be a teacher.

Needless to say, I’m not a teacher. And in fact, last week sat my final law exams!

About a year ago, I saw in a Facebook group a call out for First Step Legal volunteers. I researched the First Step model and what struck me was that people in Sri Lanka (which is where my family is from) with mental health issues don’t have access to appropriate resources and services, and I was in a position to positively impact this for people here in Melbourne.

I joined the team as a volunteer and quickly learnt that the theoretical knowledge taught at university is different from the practical application. Sometimes we deal with heavy subject matter that takes an emotional toll, but the lawyers are extremely approachable and prioritise supporting the volunteers, which is really comforting.

Spending time at First Step and seeing how closely we work with people with mental health and addiction issues, I thought, ‘yes, this is the kind of organisation I want to work with. This is the kind of law I want to practice.’

I get to work hands on with people, to speak to them and hear their stories. What I’ve seen time and again, is that their circumstances and experiences have led them down the path where they might offend. And I’ve also seen that the way we treat offenders is just not right. We disregard them, throw them in jail, don't care about them. And many people have already gone through such unfortunate circumstances in their lives.

I have now stepped up into the role of Legal Case Manager at First Step Legal, where I am responsible for managing client files, supporting the lawyers and overseeing the volunteers. I am grateful for the mentoring and guidance I have received from the team, and in my new role want to ensure that our volunteers have a positive, supported, experience.

Sasie Wijewardana,
Legal Case Manager
First Step Legal


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