Issue 48: February 2009
The challenge to provide pro bono legal support this year is going to be greater than ever but, as was pointed out at the opening of the NSW legal year, this presents the profession with an opportunity to show that it has a heart.
The key messages given at the opening of the legal year in NSW by the Chief Justice and the President of the Law Society were the need for an increased emphasis on the moral code that underpins legal professional values and the importance of the ethic of service for the legal profession. These messages were based on the pressures likely to occur by reason of the global financial crisis but there is a new crisis.
Congratulations to those Victorian lawyers that have moved to establish a bushfire victims legal service with a view to meeting the unmet legal needs of bushfire survivors that will endure for some time to come. As with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina in the US, disasters present opportunities for many lawyers to directly help victims. You will no doubt hear from PILCH (VIC) and the Federation of Community Legal Centres with respect to the support needed.
Likely areas of increasing unmet legal need this year will include employment law, consumer credit, mortgage defalcation, property repossession and many resultant issues such as domestic violence and family law issues. If this Centre can support you in any way to meet this need please let us know.
National Pro Bono Day
Friday 15 May 2009 is National Pro Bono Day. The Centrepiece will be the Walk for Justice, confirmed to take place in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne but hopefully elsewhere. Join us in the Walk and create your own events to celebrate.
See the dedicated webpage for National Pro Bono Day 2009.
The Centre’s priorities for the next 6 months are to finalise and launch the PI insurance policy for in-house lawyers, publish a national Pro Bono Practices Guide for law students and young lawyers, publish a national guide to pro bono for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, launch a short film competition and complete research and report on how to facilitate retired and career break lawyers to do pro bono work … so we are busy. Skye Rose, the Centre’s Senior Project Manager will be working from the offices of PILCH (VIC) for the next three months and catching up with Victorian lawyers.
New Pro Bono Legal Services Committee for NSW
The Centre welcomes the NSW Attorney-General’s Department establishing a committee to look at the administration and coordination of pro bono legal services in New South Wales. The aim is to consider options for providing a more cohesive structure of support and administration of services. The Centre has been invited to be a member of the committee which is planned to have an oversight and advisory role in the implementation of a coordinated approach to pro bono legal services and support for access to justice and equity issues.
Wanted- Experienced NSW Criminal Lawyers
The NSW Intellectual Disability Rights Service (IDRS) has produced an excellent guide to facilitate its Volunteer Lawyers Programme 2009-2010 and is looking for experienced criminal lawyer volunteers to help with a 24 hour telephone advice service.. The guide covers arrest and detention of vulnerable persons and provides fact sheets for lawyers and case studies that illustrate some of the challenges and rewards of helping in this area.
Potential volunteers should contact IDRS on (02) 9318 0144 or 1800 666 611.
Taking it to the Streets!
How do you engender a sense of social justice in law students? A classroom or lecture theatre doesn’t provide quite the right setting.
So the law school of Ateneo de Manila, a private Jesuit university in the Philippines, decided to take its students off campus to visit communities in need of genuine social action.
The school’s immersion program places each student for a week with a host family in a rural area. Students claim that it is a transformational experience, allowing them the rare opportunity of understanding first-hand the issues faced by indigenous people, farmers and fisher folk. Many are inspired to take up alternative law careers and to undertake pro bono work.
The program was showcased at the 5th Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE) Conference held in the Philippines in December. Delegates from 43 countries discussed the promotion of justice through education. And they too were taken out of the academy and into the streets.
“Delegates visited an open dumpsite in Payatas, Quezon City, with a population of 200,000, in order to witness the problems faced by homeless,” says Skye Rose, Senior Project Manager with the National Pro Bono Resource Centre and a reporter for the conference.
“We learnt about issues such as housing, secure land, income, health, welfare and affordable credit. Through grassroots education, the Homeless People’s Federation has been successful in promoting programs for communities to manage their own savings and credit programs. The aim has been to encourage savings as the central means of improving livelihoods, enabling communities to secure land and houses. Through this program, homeless communities have saved a staggering US$1.4m since 1995,” says Rose.
The conference also launched the Justice Education Initiative to support the efforts of legal educators, community workers, students, lawyers and judges around the world to develop legal education programs that promote justice. Its goal is to develop accessible and practical resources for use in producing lawyers who are both competent and committed to work for justice in every setting where lawyers are found.
The conference was hosted by the Ateneo Human Rights Centre in collaboration with Bridges Across Borders South East Asia. A full copy of the report on the conference will be posted shortly on the Centre’s website. For more information on GAJE go to http://gaje.org/.
Skye Rose has been elected to the GAJE Steering Committee.
Wanted: Retiring Types
“Legal work is entirely mental. It’s hard to think of another profession that doesn’t involve physical input and I think that’s the part of you that fails first. If you keep your mind going, it keeps going well.”
So says retired judge John Nader. He may have been forced to leave the Bench two years ago, but at the age of 77, he’s certainly not retiring from the law. One way he’s staying involved is through pro bono work.
Nader will be attending the NPBRC round-table discussion on encouraging retired lawyers to take up pro bono work, being held in Sydney on 12 March . Similar discussions will be taking place in Brisbane on 23 February and Melbourne on 10 March.
“When I first went to the Bar there was no legal aid at all. In those times, it was the practice of barristers to go up to the criminal courts, ready to go in and sit where they could be seen in the dock by the accused who was then invited to choose a barrister. This was called a ‘dock brief’ and it was completely honorary. Young barristers got experience and it filled a gap in the system,” says Nader.
“Everything’s changed. People expect to be paid in money for everything they do. Now there is legal aid and people with insufficient means can be represented, but it requires you to have a low income and limited property. It’s a very low threshold, and if you have more means, you don’t get help. There’s a vast gap between qualifying for legal aid and having enough means to hire a lawyer – even a modestly charging lawyer. There are a large number of people with deserving cases who aren’t eligible to be represented at taxpayers’ expense and can’t afford representation at their own expense.”
A Northern Territory Supreme Court judge from 1982 to 1992, Nader went on to take up acting appointments on the NSW District Court. During this time, he would sit for a day here and there, or for weeks or months. The patchy sitting requirements allowed him to work as a barrister as well.
“I did some pro bono work, more frequently in the last few years, very largely for the Aboriginal Legal Service and predominantly in the Taree and Newcastle areas. I’ve never knocked an Aboriginal person back,” says Nader.
He claims that he became involved in pro bono work without, “much pause for thought. I didn’t want to keep all the trappings of a practice going. I had my career, didn’t need money. I wanted the personal satisfaction of doing the work.
“It soon occurred to me that it was important for lawyers to do pro bono work, whether they are retired or not. All lawyers who can afford the time should do it.
Talking about the arbitrary retirement age introduced for judges, Nader says: “It’s a pity. Some people have a wisdom that makes them better judges – if they are not senile – when they are quite old. Some outstanding High Court judges were blokes in their 80s. Unfortunately, some hung on when they were silly.
“As long as I feel the way I do, I’ll keep going in the law.”
Smaller Firms Can Have Big Impact for Homeless
When the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic came to Townsville to gauge local law firm interest in establishing a clinic in town, Joanne Richards signed up on the spot.
“Once we became aware we had the support of the firm, four of us attended the information session and signed on,” says Joanne of Wilson Ryan Grose, one of the larger practices in Townsville.
Two months after that initial meeting, the clinic was up and running. Intended as a six to 12 month pilot, the program has been adapted as it’s gone along over the past 10 months.
“Some clinics were monthly, some fortnightly and others weekly. We’ve chopped and changed to suit each centre.”
Joanne is the coordinator for the main weekly clinic based at the South Townsville Drop-In Centre. “We turn up at lunchtime because that’s when the most number of people are there and we can reach a wider audience. It’s ‘peak hour’.”
As well as a fortnightly clinic at the Women’s Centre, a phone service is provided at the Youth Hostel. When a lawyer actually attended, they found the service was not being utilized. Now, when someone turns up at the hostel needing advice on accommodation issues, they can call one of the rostered lawyers. Nine firms in Townsville are involved in the scheme.
Joanne has undertaken “lots of pro bono work”, starting in 2001 at the Townsville Community Legal Centre where a free weekly advice service was available to the general public.
“I love it! I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t – and certainly not for as long as I have. I like to think it gives lawyers a different aspect of the law. I also do a lot of other non-legal volunteer work. I’m just that way inclined.”
“My predecessor was a young graduate who volunteered at The Basement (where the clinic is based), and when she left the profession, I took over where she left off,” says Debbie.
Though she may have stumbled into the work, she’s hooked.
“Everybody should do this. It would be great if every person in the profession did something positive for the community on a pro bono basis.”
Debbie has taken on the role of team leader, organizing the rosters for the 12 legal firms who take part, making sure each volunteer appears on the Wednesday afternoon that the clinic operates, and seeing there is follow-up for whatever problems have cropped up.
“The first occasion I went to the Basement was rather an embarrassing experience. A couple of men, who didn’t really want any legal advice, led us a merry dance. They just wanted to chat. We had to fill in a form requiring their name and address, which is ridiculous for homeless people. They gave their address as the Starlight Motel. Neither my colleague nor I realized what they meant,” says Debbie.
It was only after quizzing the men on their travels and being given the same ‘address’ for different locations that the two solicitors twigged. “We were suitably humbled.”
Changes in WA and NT
WA: The Law Access Pro Bono Scheme has recently appointed a pro bono coordinator, Lara Knell, who joined in December. Knell started her legal career in administration and secretarial roles while obtaining her LLB-degree. She is an admitted Attorney and Conveyancer in the Republic of South Africa and has a strong interest in programs which increase access to justice by members of the community. Knell can be contacted 9am-4pm on (08) 9324-8610.
The WA pro bono network group has been reconvened and plans to meet on a regular basis. The group brings together pro bono coordinators from various private law firms and representatives from the WA Community Legal Centre sector, WA Legal Aid Commission and the WA Law Society Law Access program.
NT: The Law Society Northern Territory (LSNT) launched the Territory’s Pro Bono Clearing House in 2008, and celebrated the establishment of the first pro bono referral scheme in the Northern Territory. The Clearing House is now building up and developing administrative systems. New web pages are currently being designed and all the information and forms will be available on the new-look LSNT website, which is due to be launched in conjunction with the Opening of the Legal Year celebrations. The ACT Clearing House gave permission to adapt some of their materials.
Applications for pro bono assistance have already been received from individuals and community organisations. Barbie McDermott, the new co-ordinator for the Clearing House, came on board in November and she is working with the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee to expand the Pro Bono Clearing House. The Clearing House is looking forward to having more practitioners sign up.
Sparke Helmore is looking to appoint a Pro Bono & Community Programs Coordinator based in Sydney. This role assists the Pro Bono & Community Programs Director to implement SHARE (Sparke Helmore Assistance, Responsibility and Encouragement) programs and initiatives nationally. The position is a hybrid function, with both administrative and legal professional duties and responsibilities.
Pro Bono in the News – December 2008-January 2009
Niger editor jailed over corruption story (australia.to, 28 January)