Mr Daniel Matas: Bringing students the buzz that comes from real life practice
Daniel Matas has been awarded the University of Newcastle Work Integrated Learning Staff Member of the Year for his proactive approach in initiating programs that in conjunction with the Local Court and local legal practitioners, create unique opportunities for students to gain exposure to the profession and have them ‘practice-ready’ in time for graduation.
Initiated in 2015, Daniel established the University of Newcastle Criminal Law Placement Clinic (UNCLPC) to provide students practical legal experience, allowing them to get a taste for criminal law and assess whether this is an area they are interested in pursuing as a career.
As a solicitor, Daniel was regularly attending the Local Court to run matters from his caseload when he realised that there was a unique opportunity for students to be actively engaged in the criminal process and to enhance their learning through firsthand legal practice. It is amidst this backdrop that the clinic was set up, providing students the opportunity to experience the “buzz that comes from real life practice” and help put “their academic learning into context”.
Every year there is an overwhelming response from law students, with places in the clinic highly sought after as there are only 40 spaces available over the two semesters. This is such a great and popular initiative as “Students thrive on the opportunity to put into practice the legal concepts they’ve been learning in the classroom,” Daniel explains.
The clinic provides students with an overall practical experience, which exposes them to the entire process, from arrest to result. Along the way, students observe the client being interviewed, the gathering of evidence, the development of a case theory and eventual hearing where Daniel represents the client before the court. Following the hearing, students are more often than not invited to meet with the Presiding Magistrate and Prosecutor where insightful discussions take place on the role they play in our criminal justice system. The clinic concludes with a reflective debrief.
“The experience allows students to better understand what is being taught to them in the classroom. Actually showing students how the knowledge gained can be put into practice to assist a client is a much more powerful method of teaching than just telling them in a lecture”, Daniel said. The feedback from students echoes this view, with many reporting the experience ‘greatly enhanced their understanding of the criminal law, both in theory and practice’.
“This Work Integrated Learning experience also gives students an opportunity to apply their learning to real life practical legal tasks that include drafting letters, subpoenas and written submissions on a ‘real life’ case. The accumulation of industry knowledge, all while developing meaningful relationships with members of the profession, helps students become “practice-ready and more attractive to potential employers”, Daniel concluded.
Through the clinic and his ongoing criminal law caseload, Daniel is creating important and practical Work Integrated Learning opportunities, in his commitment to inspire and motivate students while simultaneously enhancing their employability.
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