Content warning: This article discusses domestic and family violence.
Brodie Hart is often the first point of contact for women seeking support and legal advice in Canberra.
She is a senior paralegal, managing the Advice and Intake Line at the Women’s Legal Centre ACT, while completing her final year of a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Canberra.
Brodie explains that her work involves determining whether the centre can help and making referrals, if necessary, as well as drafting legal documents and letters.
It has also exposed her to the heartbreaking challenges faced by women trying to navigate the legal system.
“Most of the women we speak to have experienced or are experiencing domestic and family violence,” Brodie says.
Brodie says family and domestic violence, workplace rights and visa issues due to relationship breakdowns, are the most common legal challenges that come through the intake line.
“Some of the things that you hear on the line and have to put into writing can be very confronting, but the work is very rewarding. I’m lucky to work in a supportive place, where our mental health and wellbeing is very well looked after,” Brodie says.
Brodie started working as a paralegal before she applied to study at UC and as she heads towards the finish line, she is reflecting on balancing work and study.
“Everyone’s been really accommodating at UC, especially in my final year. The teaching staff know that students are working, whether it’s full-time, part-time, or casual. Even things like recorded tutorials, tutorials after hours and recorded lectures mean I don’t feel as though I’ve missed anything, and I can catch up on things in my own time,” she says.
Her dedication to the Women’s Legal Centre earned her a surprise nomination as one of the nation’s top paralegals.
She was named a runner-up by legal software firm Smokeball, at the National Secretary’s Day 2022 Awards on 6 May.
“The head of our family law practice, Sarah Milson-Mahy nominated me, and I’m completely honoured to be recognised because I work with incredibly smart, capable and efficient women,” Brodie says.
Brodie’s interest in law started during her childhood in the country, growing up in the central New South Wales town of Cowra.
“My Nan ran a women’s rest centre in Cowra and so you’d see a lot of people coming in to use the bathroom and she made cups of tea and cake and things like that. Sometimes the Legal Aid lawyers from other towns would bring their clients there, as it’s more dignified than sitting on the court steps,” she says.
Her observations sparked an interest in how the law affects people and how it can be more accessible.
“The legal system can be intimidating and when most people are dealing with the law, it’s probably at one of the worst times in their lives,” she says.
After finishing high school, Brodie relocated from Cowra to Canberra, becoming the first person in her family to study law at university.
When she graduates from UC, her goal is to practise in either criminal or family law.
“I think family law has won my heart now, thanks to my involvement with the Women’s Legal Centre. It’s equally about the law and what’s in legislation and how that all works, but also practical solutions, to make people’s lives better and to make separation and parenting arrangements and things like that more manageable for everyone,” Brodie says.
“I’m very grateful to my workplace and to UC, they’ve both really helped me build my skills. I feel like my studies have helped me in work, and work has helped me in my studies – and it’s just all helped me to see the practical side of law and how it works.”
It seems like Canberra has won her over too.
“I really like it here and I love my job. My plan was always to go back to Cowra to practise law, but for now I’m definitely staying in Canberra.”
Words and photo by Emma Larouche.