Trinity’s Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC), is a society which has often been overshadowed by the extravagant events of Law Soc, the immersive rhetoric of the Phil or the Hist, or even the exploits of the College’s numerous sports teams. However, this year, FLAC took its place at the forefront of Trinity’s diverse society landscape, winning not only the Best Small Society at the annual CSC Awards, but also the coveted Best Overall Society prize, for its work in providing free access to legal services.
A catalyst in this significant level of success is the work of the society’s Chair; fourth year Law student Mary Hastings. Hastings’ affiliation with FLAC began in her first year of college, which undoubtedly explains her passion for the society and its overall mission statement. “I did the intervarsity moot with one of my friends in the year above, and then we did the internal moot court competition.” With this initial experience, she “ran for PRO (…) I’ve been on committee ever since”. FLAC has certainly been an integral part of Hastings’ college experience to date. For a lot of students, FLAC may be an unfamiliar society; Hastings explained that they “mirror the original aims of the national organisation (…) which was to let Law students use their specialised knowledge to benefit the community, as well as giving them a chance to learn about the practical aspects of the Law which affect people in their day-to-day lives, rather than just focusing on law as a theoretical concept.”
“We do moot court competitions which, on the one hand provide legal research to NGOs, while also letting Law students develop their research and advocacy skills.”
What seems to differentiate FLAC from other societies is that its impact and mission statement transcends College’s walls. Central to FLAC as a whole, according to Hastings, is that “we try and benefit both the Trinity community by providing free legal advice clinics once a week, and we also turn towards the wider community by holding events on topics of social justice”. In addition to that, they “produce research projects (…) we are currently working on one based around general access to justice”. The work of FLAC is not solely restricted to giving help with free legal advice but also in enhancing law students’ experience. “We do moot court competitions which, on the one hand provide legal research to NGOs, while also letting Law students develop their research and advocacy skills.”
Despite being a small society, the events held by FLAC are frequent. Hastings lightheartedly observed that “a few years ago, one of the Chairs introduced this one-event-a-week thing, and so we’ve been trying to keep that up”. As impressive as this particular aspect of the society is, what augments this point is the variety in subject area upon which they focus. Hastings recalls organising talks related to, amongst other things, the right to housing, the right to a clean environment, the rights of older people in “issues of capacity and decision making”, and their alternative careers event. “It was “a big surprise. When they announced it, I was shaking.”
“It was “a big surprise. When they announced it, I was shaking.”
Even with all of these events on offer, the highlight of FLAC’s calendar this year was their founders’ event. This was held in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the organisation’s establishment: “This was the big special one.” They invited Eilis Barry, the CEO of FLAC, speakers from their previous events, lecturers, and the founders of FLAC. Ironically, the event may not even have come to fruition if it wasn’t for the committee members’ dedication to their own independent legal studies. It was secretary Mary Murphy who, when revising over summer, noticed it was FLAC’s 50th anniversary. When asked if the anniversary would not have been observed if it wasn’t for Murphy’s revision, Hastings humorously observed that “we hopefully would have copped it at some point”. She went on to discuss the technicalities of the event: “Firstly the three surviving founders spoke; David Byrne, Ian Candy, and Denis McCullough. And then the wife of the late Mr Justice Vivian Lavan spoke, Dr Una Lavan (…) and then we had Eilis Barry.”
Of course, the success of the founders’ dinner was not the only achievement for the society this year. Hastings’ modesty was apparent when she recounted the CSC win. It was “a big surprise. When they announced it, I was shaking.” Discussing the night of the ceremony in detail, Hastings said: “First we won Best Small Society, and we knew that we were nominated for that (…) Then after dinner, they announced the Best Overall Society.” To their surprise, FLAC scooped this award too. She recalled a conversation with her mum the next morning, wondering why there were two plaques downstairs, and upon hearing that Hastings and FLAC had in fact won two awards, was equally shocked.
It is clear from Hastings’ dedication, along with the diversity of the group’s activities, that it was more than deserved. Hastings specifically noted her “amazing” committee, stating that: “Each and every person has such passion and intelligence. That’s why we’ve had such a range of events.” Indeed, it is for these reasons that Hastings “can’t wait to see what they come up with next year”.