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Law students take on EQC

University of Canterbury law students are volunteering their time to help Christchurch residents take court action against the Earthquake Commission (EQC).

The group action, led by law firm Anthony Harper, has 147 claimants. The action is seeking a declaratory judgment that EQC is not meeting its obligations under the Earthquake Commission Act 1993.

Law students are volunteering their time to help under the clinical legal studies programme at UC.

Project leader Matt Taylor said “it is one of the most rewarding projects we’ve worked on”.

“This project is unique because it’s the first time that we’ve teamed up with a law firm and the University of Canterbury.”

About 50 students have signed up so far and will be organised by the Canterbury branch of Law For Change  to review documents and case files. Along with experience, volunteers will receive credit toward their degrees. From next year, the law degree at UC requires each student to demonstrate practical skills and 100 hours of community service.

UC director of clinical legal studies Robin Palmer said law schools had typically focused on legal principle and seen it as the profession’s role to teach legal skills.

“The advantage [of the programme] is that not only do students get value for their law degree, they immediately have real-world skills.”

Palmer described volunteer work with the EQC action as being “the norm” under the new programme, which would have students volunteering on the Teina Pora Privy Council appeal and travelling to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Pora was convicted in 1994 of the rape and murder of Susan Burdett in her south Auckland home.

Volunteer Derick Lotz said students’ altruistic spirit was shown by the Student Volunteer Army, but “it shouldn’t just be in times of need; it should be a regular occurrence”.

For those students not contributing, “this is the necessary kick that we need to embrace our role in the community and do some good”.

“By working closely with actual lawyers and seeing how things are done on the front lines, you really do start to get the feel about what being a lawyer is all about.”

_Rick Jordan for The Press