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How to become a Civil and Human Rights Lawyer with Naz Besavend
25 July 2022

How to become a Civil and Human Rights Lawyer with Naz Besavend

Published on 25 July 2022

Naz Besavend didn’t always know she would become a civil and human rights lawyer. In fact, she finished law school interested in multiple areas of law, but unsure of which would be the best fit for her. PLT, however, helped clarify her interests. She has since joined the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, and serves as a volunteer solicitor for the Fitzroy Legal Service. We spoke to Naz, a College of Law ambassador, about her journey to the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, how PLT helped guide her career choices, and what advice she might have for lawyers looking to move into a similar field.

How did your experience of PLT compare with your law degree?

My law degree provided me with a solid foundation of the law but I still had no idea what I was going to do. I had areas of interest but I didn’t actually know if I wanted to practice in those areas.

PLT clarified a lot of things for me. It allowed me to put into perspective what I wanted to do and how I could do it. The oral assessments during PLT helped me summarise and vocalise my understanding of the units, which I found to be most beneficial. I was able to have what felt like a casual conversation while actually giving advice.

My College of Law mentors were so helpful in guiding and advising me. I actually ended up choosing elective subjects that I didn’t enjoy at university because I wanted to tackle them from a different angle. 

What attracted you to the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service? 

I was instantly drawn to the role at VALS when I read the position description. The focus on collaboration and project work felt like a perfect fit. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to actually leverage my previous experiences and this felt like a natural extension for me.

From retail to banking to dispute resolution, I’ve always worked in consumer-centric roles. I’m a problem solver by nature and I enjoy the satisfaction of de-escalating a situation. I’ve always been an avid shopper and consumer, but I’d never previously thought about specialising in consumer law.

What does a day in your life look like? What kind of cases do you typically see?

I specialise in consumer, debt, and insurance law, but I also have the opportunity to dabble in other areas of law, like health, employment, and tenancy law matters.

A day in my life at work involves catching up on e-mails, making client calls, and drafting letters. Once that’s done, I start working on new files and plan out what work I need to do.

As my role is a project role, I have the opportunity to work with several amazing organisations. I get to go on outreach trips to meet clients and other stakeholders to gain a better understanding of legal issues the community faces. This first-hand experience is invaluable, as it informs how we address the legal issues through advocacy, policy, and campaign work.

What's the most rewarding part of what you do?

I love my job, as I am surrounded by people who share the same values and want to achieve the same objectives.

Being a community lawyer is very different to other areas of law. You have the opportunity to take a more holistic approach to problem-solving. I love that I can still help clients, even if their problems aren’t legal in nature. 

You can get to know clients really well, and this has enabled me to better understand their problems, and what a good outcome means to them. Sometimes all I do is just offer someone my ear and listen to them talk about what they’re going through. I love that I really get to serve the community and do work that matters. It makes you feel very grounded and humble.

Becoming a human rights lawyer is a dream for many. What advice would you have for law students to get there?

Get involved! Start volunteering at organisations you’re passionate about to get a better idea and grasp of the work. You’ll have to adjust your expectations of what it means to be a community lawyer. A lot of what we do is informal and involves a lot of advocacy and expectation setting.

I think a lot of graduates, myself included, often overlook whether we can actually picture ourselves working at an organisation or practicing in a certain area of law, as we’re so eager to practice and get that experience. But it is so important that we ensure our personal values and ethics are aligned with your organisation, and that you feel your work will be valued. So, if you are someone wanting to practice in a similar space, make sure you familiarise yourself with the organisation, its values, its clients, culture, and everything in between.

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