Published on Monday 22, March 2021
Elisabeth O'Dea - turning a passion for working with young people into a career as IMCL's Youth Outreach Lawyer
Since her first job as a criminal lawyer, Elisabeth (Libby) has always loved working with young people.
'My absolute favourite part was the Children's Court work, in the child protection division or helping young people navigate the criminal justice system when charged with an offence, often for the first time.'
'But [after starting a family] and in search of the right work-life balance, Libby joined a medium-sized firm doing civil law work.
In the back of her mind, though, she was always itching to get back to working with young people.
'I had read about school lawyer programs, and I thought "that would be my ultimate job - that's what I want to be doing."'
Libby just had to wait for the right opportunity to come along.
Eventually, an advertisement for IMCL's Youth Outreach Lawyer (YOL) program caught her eye. The more she learnt about the position, the more she knew it was for her.
The role called for a lawyer to attend local schools to provide legal assistance and community legal education directly to the student cohort. In doing so, the program aimed to support young people to remain engaged in education and allow them to grow up healthy, safe and to their full potential.
When we met Libby and saw her passion for working with young people and her previous work in the Children's Court, we knew she was the perfect fit.
Leading IMCL's YOL project during 2020 and into 2021, Libby has made huge inroads and has carried out several key activities, including developing print and online resources, delivering legal education and providing direct legal assistance to students.
Attending the schools in-person means that Libby has become an integrated member of the school community, highly valued by staff and students alike. These essential relationships build trust and break down the barriers to students seeking legal help.
For Libby, the feeling is mutual.
'I love being down at the schools and working with young people,' Libby told us.'
'People sometimes use labels like disadvantaged and vulnerable, but they're just great people. It's nice to have a tiny role in their lives and when you find that you can build trust with them, it's gold.'