Budding lawyer overcomes homelessness to tackle inequality

Homelessness sparked in Danielle Lamborn a passion for social justice that drives her burgeoning knowledge of law to tackle some of the world’s most complicated environmental and civic problems.

Ms Lamborn will in January put on hold her studies at Australian Catholic University to begin a scholarship and ambassadorial role at the Loyola Law School at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines.

The prestigious New Colombo Plan Scholarship represents a sharp fortune reversal from her teens when she lived in intermediate accommodation and, for a period, couch-surfed with friends around Lake Macquarie.

“I grew up in a low-socioeconomic situation. “It made me really focus on people, and I realised if they had access to things, they'd be able to find solutions,” she said.

Ms Lamborn’s childhood experiences inspired her to fight for change. She recalls wanting to be a lawyer since she was six.

Changing the world began for her at ACU where she volunteered at the university-backed Refugee Law Project which offers support to asylum seekers who are considering taking their cases to the Federal Circuit Court.

The Project, led by pro bono barristers and underpinned by law students, has secured a handful of underdog victories against legal teams acting for Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Such coalface experience is a real, valuable, and occasionally confronting, introduction to legal processes.

“The clients want to tell their story, they want to be heard. But it can be crushing because it's a judicial review,” Ms Lamborn said.

“The system can be geared against self-represented clients and this is their last chance. There's a fine balance between understanding the complex area of judicial review and managing a client’s expectations. It can be extremely traumatic.

“It's tough realising how inadequate the law can be.”

The New Colombo Plan scholarships were devised by the Federal Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to increase knowledge of the Indo-Pacific region by supporting Australian undergraduate students to study and undertake internships in the region.

While in Manila, Ms Lamborn plans to advance her knowledge of environmental law within the context of the agrarian reform that is shaping the Philippines economy.

“This will be transformational for me,” she said. “They have a different history, different land use demands, and I’m really excited to see what strategies they’re using.”

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