Where are they now? With Brigette Rose
The CIJ catches up with former RMIT Juris Doctor student Brigette Rose to find out what she's been up to since graduating.
When did you graduate, what have you been up to since then?
I finished the JD program in March 2017, so at the end of the extra summer semester, while I was on parental leave from my full time job in health policy at a medical college. Since graduating, I returned to work full time, but was able to negotiate with my then-employer to work part-time in my health policy role and for two days per week with in-house counsel to fulfil the supervised placement requirements for admission.
I’ve also had a second child, and have since moved to a legal policy role at Consumer Action Law Centre, a consumer and credit-focused community legal centre, where I’ve been for six months. I work with solicitors and financial counsellors and the rest of the policy team to advocate for changes to law to better protect consumers. Much of my current work is arising out of the Banking Royal Commission that demonstrated clear consumer harm at the hands of financial institutions and insurance companies last year. It’s been a busy couple of years!
Tell us a little bit about your career journey and why you decided to pursue a law degree?
I had been working in health policy and policy development for three years when I realised I was interested in law. I was drafting national training regulations for medical registrars, which is the remit of the professional colleges for each medical specialty in Australia, and worked closely with in-house counsel while doing so. I was impressed with the variety of work in which lawyers could engage, from risk management, to ensuring decisions are made with procedural fairness, to providing legal policy advice. I was so enthused by everything I learned from working with in-house counsel that I decided I needed to study law myself.
The more I learned in the JD program, the more determined I was to work in a legal career. However, I still loved policy, and realised that I could utilise both my policy background and my new legal knowledge to advocate for social justice-based law reform. Working in a policy team in a CLC, like I do now, is a perfect fit for me.
How well did the RMIT JD prepare you for your career?
The RMIT JD was amazing for my career. It was such a practical degree, with a unique social justice focus. I love how the RMIT electives and opportunities through the CIJ have helped me become more knowledgeable and passionate about issues I always cared about, such as asylum seeker rights. RMIT gave me the language and understanding to better advocate for human rights, and now, at this point in my career, for consumer rights.
I also truly appreciated the flexibility in the RMIT JD program. I started part time while working full time and continued part time for a while after having a baby (but listening online for some courses rather than attending in person). Then, I moved to full time study to finish off the degree. The program is built to be accessible to working people and to people with families – this structure was critical to my success!
What involvement did you have with CIJ while studying?
I originally wasn’t sure how to access the CIJ while working full time, so I ended up engaging with it while on parental leave. This really set me up for a career that I’m passionate about, so I definitely recommend using study or annual leave from work to access the CIJ’s opportunities if necessary. I participated in Clinical Legal Education with the Mental Health Legal Centre, which gave me the opportunity to meet with women imprisoned at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre and work on civil legal matters affecting them. It was sobering to see how difficult debt, housing, family law and other life issues are to deal with from inside a prison, and how those issues do not go away – in fact, they compound or often get worse while the women are serving a sentence or are on remand. There were clients whose only asset, their car, had been impounded, women with Centrelink debt, women needing to undergo property settlements, and women whose lack of housing directly affected their ability to be eligible for release. These are similar to issues that I work on (but now in a systemic way) at Consumer Action Law Centre.
I was also selected by the CIJ to draft an impact assessment of a Federal Charter of Human Rights for Australia along with four other students. This was a huge research opportunity, and we discovered how a federal charter, based on the Victorian Charter, would make a difference in transparency, options and debate as Parliament develops laws that may infringe on human rights, and as the courts apply those laws. Our work was launched by Gillian Triggs, then commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission, with Hugh de Kretser of the Human Rights Law Centre and David Manne from Refugee Legal speaking alongside us students.
If you had one piece of advice to give law students, what would that be?
Recognise and appreciate the support you receive from your partners, family, friends, colleagues and others to help you succeed throughout your degree.
Is there anything that surprised you about working in the legal sector?
There are so many lawyers who are passionate about the greater good. Lawyers aren’t all about making money while representing people, even if that’s what the greater public may think. Lots of lawyers care about advocating for law reform to ensure legislation better protects people, about representing people experiencing vulnerability and, at times, horrific circumstances, and, of course, about ensuring fairness and justice where it is due.