Newsboys Foundation 125 Years 17 There aren’t many jobs where it would be regarded as a positive that your messy, violent family history is plastered all over the internet. But when Vincent Shin, more commonly known in the schoolyard as ‘Sir Vinnie’, sits in his open-door office at The Grange, a Prep to Year 12 school in Hoppers Crossing, it’s a positive boon. The school is full of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, plus migrant and refugee kids. “The kids know my background,” he said. “They’ve seen the Australian Story. Importantly, they know that I know exactly how they feel. When I think back to my attitude in my youth, it was: ‘What would you know? You probably have a good life. You would never understand!’ But I can say, no, I’ve been there.” The ABC TV’s Australian Story in question covered the years of family violence Vinnie suffered as a child, and the later development where his estranged father was jailed for attempted murder, almost killing a man in front of the victim’s children. It’s a traumatic backstory in every sense except for Vinnie’s resilience, as he lifted himself from being a lost kid who miserably failed Year 12 in the midst of his family drama, to excelling at TAFE, achieving a law degree and then finding his mission in social justice as the first ever in-school lawyer for WEstjustice, a community legal centre. These days, he rides his motorbike to The Grange three days a week and helps students with everything from myki card fines to consumer issues, rent problems and criminal charges that kids might be facing. “These kids would never go to a lawyer, would not even know a free legal service exists,” he said. “Instead I’m here. They’re all ‘Hi Vinnie, hi Sir, hi Sir Vinnie!’ They know me, I intentionally dress casually, it breaks down almost all the barriers for kids.” He’s been in place at The Grange for three years now, thanks to funding from a variety of philanthropic organisations, including constant support from the Newsboys Foundation. Long enough to ponder the question: is the concept of an in-school lawyer working? “It took a while for the kids to come straight to me,” he admits. “But now I know it works. The kids are constantly coming to see me, and they trust me enough to share. We’ve been able to expose so many issues in this cohort that traditional lawyering simply couldn’t. We’re not just trying to help with everyday issues, we’re looking at how we can help with systemic change, such as family violence or discrimination and racial profiling.” The key is that Vinnie and other in-school lawyers are there for the kids, not the school. “I worked with a client going through a rough patch. I was seeing him almost every day, building a good rapport. I was able to do all his legal work in court and be a positive role model. Most lawyers would only see a client at court or maybe once or twice pre-court and that’s it. I was able to be more engaged, linking him with other support services at school. Now he’s 19 and has completely turned his life around. He’s working six days a week.” Official figures suggest that family violence is only a minor part of the workload, but Vinnie says it underlies the majority of issues and often emerges in discussion over other problems. “When these kids come to see me, they just feel empowered. Just by me being here, they know that what might be happening at home is actually illegal. They might not choose to, but they know they can call the police, they can go to court, and I am able to point them to organisations that are there if they have to leave or want to leave.” Newsboys Foundation was the first philanthropic organisation to support WEstjustice to establish the School Lawyer Project, with annual grants since the project’s inception in 2015. Newsboys also introduced the project to other philanthropic foundations to encourage their support. Visit: The schoolyard lawyer The kids at school call Vincent Shin ‘Sir Vinnie’ because his tough upbringing inspires them to trust him to help turn their lives around