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CLeaR Fellows 2020 – Assoc Prof Hanna Wilberg

Social security and the Law: Designing a course that engages students in supervised legal work for clients

Associate Professor Hanna WilbergHanna’s main research interests are mainly in Administrative Law and the Tort liability of public authorities. She is currently writing a book on The Principles of New Zealand Administrative Law, to be published by Hart (UK) in 2021. Before joining academia, she was a Judges’ Clerk at the Court of Appeal in Wellington, and practiced law at the Crown Law Office. Hanna has organised a series of academic workshops on Administrative Law. She has also served as the law faculty’s Associate Dean Equity (2017-2018), and as the co-editor of the New Zealand Law Review 2008-2013). Her contributions to teaching include comprehensively redeveloping the Administrative Law course over many years, and designing a new course on Public Authority Liability that adopts a thorough seminar style which is unusual in the law faculty’s undergraduate courses.

Hanna’s project designed a new law school course containing a clinical component – i.e. supervised legal work for clients. This is a type of course that the law school should have: it is common in many law schools overseas, but our law school is only just starting to offer this on a very small scale. Her course deals with social security: social welfare benefits, social housing and ACC. Students studied the legal regimes in these areas and engage with policy debates and critical theories about social security, before using this foundation to engage in clinical work. The clinical work had taken the form of writing submissions and acting as advocates, for claimants who were taking decisions to appeal bodies such as the Social Security Appeals authority for review. This will help address a well-documented large unmet need for representation and advocacy in the social security area, and will thus help the law school to pursue its ambition of promoting social justice. It will also be a transformative learning opportunity for the students, giving them a different understanding of law and exposing them to clients with life experiences very different from those of many students. A well-designed new course of this nature can then in future serve as a model for further new clinical work offerings at the law school.