Alana Dowley

CEO

Tell us about yourself and how you came to be in your current role

I commenced my career in private practice. For 23 years, I specialised in construction law, with a special emphasis on industry-based contract management training. I have held numerous voluntary positions in community-based organisations over many years. I was also a founding director of a multi-award winning sustainable development company. After completing my Masters in 2020, with a focus on human services, I transitioned into the not-for-profit sector and am now the CEO of Law Access.

Please give us a snapshot of the activities of Law Access Limited

Law Access facilitates the giving of pro bono legal assistance by the WA legal profession to those who cannot afford a lawyer. In FY2023, 134 lawyers took a referral from Law Access (32 lawyers took multiple referrals).

Law Access considers applications from non-profits and individuals in genuine need of legal assistance. Genuine need is assessed by considering an applicant’s financial circumstances, the merit in their case and whether resolving their issue may have a broader positive effect on vulnerable groups in the community.

Law Access received 632 applications for assistance in FY2023, with 34% of those being for applicants with a disability or mental health or other serious health issue. 20% of all applicants had experienced family domestic violence.

Law Access refers matters in many areas of civil law, family law (property), criminal law, immigration and pro bono support for community legal centres and eligible non-profits. In FY2023, it referred 127 matters.

The value of pro bono assistance provided through Law Access has been estimated over the last few years at approximately $2.7m per annum.

Law Access also supports pro bono work through its Disbursement Fund, training and resources, referrals to Counsel and by facilitating CLC / pro bono partnerships.

What are some examples of the impact of the pro bono work of your members?

NDIS assistance for young child

Jackson McDonald accepted a Law Access referral to act for a family with a young child with severe disabilities (May 2022) and later engaged pro bono barrister Cobey Taggart (Dec 2022). Pro bono support assisted the family to negotiate an outcome with the NDIS which provided them with sufficient funding to care for their child’s significant needs. Partner Erica Thuijs said: “It was a real pleasure and a privilege to be able to help the family achieve such a life changing outcome and see the real impact that it will have on their daily life.”

Victim of family violence and child with autism

The applicant, with limited English, had migrated to Australia with their permanent resident partner and their child. The applicant was forced to move to a refuge to escape domestic violence. Circle Green (Community Legal Centre) was helping the applicant but during the residency application process, the applicant’s child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Tang Law accepted a referral from Law Access to assist with an application to the Department of Home Affairs for a health waiver (June 2022), while Circle Green continued to assist the applicant generally. After much hard work and a long wait, the applicant and their child received the heath waiver and were granted permanent residency (August 2023).

Homelessness crisis averted for vulnerable applicant

SCALES (Community Legal Centre) referred an applicant on a disability support pension who was facing imminent eviction from her family home. The home had been purchased with funds contributed jointly by the applicant and an adult child. The adult child sought to evict the applicant who needed to assert their equitable interest in the property to avoid homelessness. Acting pro bono, Clayton Utz made an urgent ex-parte Supreme Court application to suspend enforcement of eviction orders and then commenced substantive proceedings. The parties negotiated an equitable outcome. The applicant said: “Without all this incredible talent I know I would have given up and accepted despairing emotional distress knowing homelessness was imminent.”