Sydney’s Salvos Legal humanitarian senior associate Amy Burton was a finalist in the prestigious 2017 Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Award in the pro bono category and is now also a finalist in the NSW Women Lawyers Achievement Awards, writes Julie Houghton.
What motivated you to pursue a legal career?
When I was in Year 8, my English teacher ran a class about exploitation of child workers in Thailand. That was the light-bulb moment for me—I was determined to do something to help people. I got very involved in my school’s social service club and organised fundraisers for charities, including for The Salvation Army’s Red Shield Appeal. I also enjoyed reading, debating and sticking to the rules, so my dad suggested that I might be interested in a career in law.
What has your career trajectory been?
I studied an Arts/Law degree at Monash University (Melbourne) and volunteered on a fortnightly basis at three local community legal centres. I was selected for the Monash Oxfam/Castan Centre Global Internship in South Africa. For six weeks, I worked with HIV/AIDS-affected individuals at a university law clinic in Durban and an outreach clinic in a nearby township.
Then I worked at Allens Linklaters, a corporate law firm, for three years, learning lots and doing pro bono work for the Homeless Persons Legal Centre.
When I saw that Salvos Legal was looking for an associate in their humanitarian team in 2014, I knew I had to apply even though it involved moving to Sydney.
It was my dream role! It’s been life-changing—I feel like I’m part of something so much bigger than just a nine-to-five job.
Why did you choose a not for profit like Salvos Legal over corporate?
I wasn’t cut out to be a corporate lawyer. I’ve been so lucky to grow up in a stable family and receive a good education and I truly believe that it’s my duty to use my knowledge to help people in real need.
What have been the benefits for you of working for Salvos Legal?
Salvos Legal is an innovative law firm, so I’m part of a truly new and unique venture. Because it’s owned by The Salvation Army I feel like I belong to something so much bigger than just a law firm and the firm attracts people who have truly moral and ethical values. They could be working at big corporate law firms, but they’ve made the conscious decision to work at a firm where they can help people in desperate need. There’s a real energy and sense of purpose at Salvos Legal—it’s unlike any other place I’ve worked.
What led to the nomination for the award?
I’ve had some pretty significant successful outcomes for clients in the past year, including successfully appealing the decision of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection not to grant an elderly Malaysian client a protection visa.
If she had been forced to return, she would have faced serious discrimination on the basis of her severe mental illnesses. Only one per cent are successful so I was incredibly surprised and elated at the outcome.
In January I successfully appealed the decision of the Department to cancel an Egyptian client’s protection visa, when the client had returned to Egypt to save his three children from kidnappers. Late last year I worked with the Department and the Australian Federal Police to ensure that two victims of modern slavery have the opportunity to apply for visas to remain permanently in Australia, far from the exploitative conditions in their countries of origin.
How significant is the nomination?
Working in humanitarian law is complex, gruelling and emotionally challenging. Whilst I don’t need public recognition of my work to keep me motivated, it’s lovely to have the opportunity to reflect on my achievements at Salvos Legal and to know that I really am helping people achieve some positive outcomes in their lives.