In early August over 600 delegates from across Australia gathered in Fremantle, WA, for the National CLCs Conference 2016, representing CLCs, not-for-profits, law firms, government agencies and universities. The conference theme — Innovation and Collaboration for better justice outcomes — was evident throughout the event, with sessions demonstrating that the sector remains resilient, creative and collegiate despite challenging times. More than ever, through pro bono partnerships and individual volunteering, the broader legal profession has an important role to play in collaborating with the sector to provide access to justice.
Sue Ash AO, CEO of UnitingCare West, delivered a keynote address drawing on her recent paper The role of not for profits and active citizenship. Sue noted that profound social change is catching up with the legal assistance sector, and is driven by:
- government’s shift from focusing services on community to focusing on individuals;
- the ability to measure, and therefor commodify our services, thanks to technology; and
- a focus on transactions that can be given an economic value.
As a result, individuals are ‘dropping out’ of eligibility for government services, while government support for community-based services is declining. In Sue’s view, however, government will come to support early intervention responses, including those that benefit CLC clients. In the meantime, she sees collaboration across government, the sector and clients as the way forward.
In his keynote address, the Hon Wayne Martin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of WA, deplored the Australian justice gap, in which the areas of unmet legal need are ‘at the core of our human existence’, and lamented the current funding crisis. He stressed that ‘it impossible to overstate the importance of CLCs in providing access to justice for many Australians’. The appropriate response, His Honour suggested, includes looking to volunteers including pro bono lawyers, to boost the capacity of the sector. Legal volunteerism, he noted, should benefit from a competitive graduate employment market, although appropriate training and supervision of graduates will often be required. His Honour also recommended developing models of proactive and preventative lawyering, and harnessing innovation and technology.
Another highlight of this conference was the presentation by the people working at Knowmore, the community legal service seeking to deliver integrated and trauma-informed services to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. This session provided a remarkable insight into the challenges faced by lawyers and other professionals to provide ‘culturally safe’ services in order to gain the trust of a person who has suffered sexual abuse when that person is considering speaking to, or providing information to the Royal Commission or pursuing legal remedies.
In more than 70 presentations over three days, topics included:
- health justice partnerships, including the role of referrals to pro bono partners;
- collaborative models involving other service providers such as financial counsellors, community workers, teachers and other school staff, local councils, and cultural community leaders, in order to deal with the ‘clustered’ legal issues of clients;
- information resources (such as legal information and tools for culturally and linguistically diverse clients) and education on working with clients with disabilities;
- innovative approaches, such using social media and digital technology to reach clients, ‘preventative lawyering’, taking an evaluative approach and learning from failure;
- unbundling legal assistance to facilitate the involvement of commercial (or pro bono) legal services; and
- best practice in using volunteers (including pro bono lawyers), such as training approaches and risk management strategies.
The Centre screened a short film — Developing Pro Bono Partnerships in RRR Areas — commissioned by the National Association of Community Legal Centres as a training resource and produced by the Centre. The film is based on a series of interviews with people from RRR CLCs, pro bono coordinators, and others. It will be used in webinars to be conducted by the Centre for RRR CLCs later this year, and then released publicly.
In addition the Centre’s Sue Hunt spoke about starting up and maintaining pro bono partnerships, together with Leanne Ho (Pro Bono Senior Associate, Henry Davis York) and Alison Ryan (Senior Solicitor, Refugee Advice & Casework Service) who described their successful pro bono partnership. Jillian Mitford-Burgess (Special Counsel Pro Bono, Henry Davis York) spoke about pro bono legal research and advocacy through the Law Reform Hub.
The Centre would like to thank the National Association of Community Legal Centres for the opportunity to participate in this excellent event. Details of all presentations can be found in the conference full program.