Meet Melbourne Juris Doctor student, Paige Santelli. Through her internship with Tenants Victoria, Paige has been able to develop her work experience and pursue her passion in advocacy with a social justice focus.

Paige Santelli, Melbourne Juris Doctor student

How would you describe your experience studying the Juris Doctor?

It's a very challenging degree, but I feel completely differently towards the degree and myself in my second year than I did in my first year.

In my first year, I laid really low, focused on my classes, and didn't socialise much or look for legal experiences outside of the law school. In my second year, I gained much more confidence in myself. I have branched out and have met many amazing students and faculty, which has demystified the law school experience for me.

I have realised that I belong here, there are like-minded people here, and there are opportunities that excite me.

Why did you choose Melbourne for your studies?

I first studied at Melbourne for Semester 1 2018 in a study abroad program. I ended up falling in love with Melbourne - the school and the city - so much that I moved back here in June 2019 when I graduated from undergrad.

When I was deciding where to go to law school, I didn't consider any schools other than Melbourne. I had such a welcoming, positive experience in my study abroad program at Melbourne, and Melbourne Law School is one of the best in the world, so it was the only law school that I applied to.

What internships have you undertaken during your studies?

I recently sourced an independent paralegal internship with Tenants Victoria because the reason I wanted to go to law school in the first place was to be involved with housing advocacy and support tenants with their rental disputes.

I actually thought of looking for an internship with Tenants Victoria after my professor, John Tobin, brought Jon Faine into the law school as a guest speaker for the Human Rights Collective at MLS. Jon Faine mentioned that he used to volunteer with the tenancy union when he was in law school, and that instantly grabbed my attention. I applied for the position with Tenants Victoria the same day!

The good thing about MLS is that you can apply for a subject called 'Legal Internship' if you have an unpaid, independent internship that you want to get subject credit for. I'm definitely going to be doing this with the Tenants Victoria internship to get the most out of the experience.

What has been the most memorable aspect of your internship?

The most memorable aspect of the internship so far has been feeling hopeful about law again.

Since starting the paralegal position with Tenants Victoria, I have been exposed to exactly the kind of law that I'm interested in. Even better, the people working in that space are so lovely and approachable, and the work environment is understanding and warm. It's exactly the kind of work environment that I would feel most comfortable in, and exactly the kind of law I would want to specialise in, so I'm feeling hopeful about my future.

What have you learnt from your internship?

I had relatively extensive work experience before this internship, so I figured the job wouldn't be all that different from the admin jobs I've had in the past, but I was definitely humbled when I started! Since it was my first legal position, I realised that I had to adapt my skills to the legal sector because it's its own thing entirely.

In Community Legal Centers (CLCs), you have to have a certain level of independence, confidence, and adaptability because you essentially just head right into the work on your first day. Within the first hour of my first day, I had to take notes at a Magistrates' Court hearing, and I was so nervous!

But everyone was extremely helpful and reassuring. The lawyers at Tenants Victoria are so good with giving feedback to paralegals about their work, and because of this feedback I have learned the best ways to do things and am able to have confidence in my work a lot more than I did when I first started.

What kind of work would you like to pursue in the future?

I am definitely interested in pursuing work in a CLC. Ideally, I would be doing housing law, but I am also interested in employment law and perhaps working with a union representing and advocating for workers. I am starting a subject soon called 'Labour Standards and their Enforcement', so I think this will be a really good introduction to that area of law.

I know that no matter what I do after law school, I will always be involved in some sort of advocacy, whether that's in my everyday job, or outside of it in my own time. I have always been interested in progressive politics and creating a better world, so I will never stop pursuing opportunities with a social justice focus.