David Burnett was a University of Sydney Arts / Law student who tragically died in an accident at an ancient archaeological site of Petra Jordan in 2008. He was a former State President and National Vice-President of the Australian Union of Jewish Students, a member of the NSW Young Labor organisation, and he was involved in student politics. He was an active student known for his enthusiasm and dedication to his fellow students on campus and broader community.
The family of David Burnett established the scholarship understanding David’s deep commitment to promoting and acting upon principles of social justice, tolerance and inter-community harmony.
Today, the David Burnett Memorial Scholarship in Social Justice supports full-time Bachelor of Laws students enrolled in the Sydney Law School Social Justice Program.
I feel incredibly honoured to have received this award in memory of David Burnett and wish to continue building upon his legacy in the social justice space in both my studies and work.
Louise Press is the most recent recipient of the scholarship.
We spoke to Louise about the significance of receiving the scholarship, her experience undertaking the Social Justice Program, and how the scholarship has helped her explore the range of alternative career paths a law degree can bring.
It has been a true privilege to receive the David Burnett Memorial Scholarship in Social Justice. The financial assistance offered by this scholarship allowed me to continue volunteering at the Aboriginal Legal Service and Redfern Legal Centre. These experiences re-ignited my passion for social justice whilst exposing me to the realities of public interest lawyering and the lived experiences of some of the most marginalised members of our community.
I was also provided with the opportunity to work closely alongside legal and non-legal actors with similar interests as mine.
These interactions encouraged me to continue pursuing a career in social justice, even if it means travelling along a different path to the majority of my cohort.
I found my volunteer work at Redfern Legal Centre fascinating as I was exposed to the Care and Protection field. Through observing these matters in court, hearing clients’ stories, and learning how the law does (and doesn’t) assist in these situations, I discovered I am very passionate about increasing the safety of children and parents, especially in the context of family violence.
This led me to successfully apply to be a Research Officer in the Family Law, Family Violence and Elder Abuse Team at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. This opportunity to engage in socio-legal research that may contribute to law reform and public policy has been invaluable thus far, namely because it has opened my eyes to the various ways I can use the skills I acquired at law school to contribute to social change beyond legal practice.
Without the Scholarship, I would not have had the financial resources to continue volunteering, and therefore would not have gained the experience, insight, and skills necessary to work in this space.
In my application for this scholarship, I referenced a quote in Quigley’s ‘Letter to a Law Student Interested in Social Justice’ that resonated with me for many years: ‘the first thing I lost in law school was the reason that I came.’
Although I am still uncertain what my future career may look like, I can now say I have a better understanding of the many opportunities available post-law school and a deeper appreciation for the skills law school has taught me.
I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the Social Justice Program. Through this unit, I was exposed to the various ways the law can (and can’t) be used as a mechanism for social change and was provided with the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals.
I’ve often felt out of place at law school as the majority of my cohort are interested in pursuing a career in commercial legal practice. At times, I’ve questioned whether law school is for me and what value it may have to my future career if I decided not to practice.
Meeting other law students passionate about human rights, as well as lawyers working within this field, was an empowering experience.
Most importantly, this program taught me that working in social justice doesn’t necessarily mean pushing for radical social change or being the loudest voice. Most of the work in this space occurs on a micro level; helping individual clients who are immensely grateful to simply be heard and have a platform to raise their concerns.
As stated by a lawyer at the Panel evening of my Public Interest Law Clinic unit, ‘sometimes it’s enough to help that one individual because nobody else has and nobody else will.’