Tony Woodyatt has just stepped down as LawRight/QPILCH’s first director after nearly 16 years at the helm. Now is an appropriate time to recognise his significant contribution to the development of the pro bono movement in Australia.
Tony’s enthusiasm, dedication and perseverance (some may argue doggedness) to help those in need — to ensure that marginalised and disadvantaged Queenslanders are provided with access to justice at the highest possible — level has been infectious.
A point made strongly at Tony’s farewell was that he is not one to ‘big-note’ himself and the strength of his leadership has been his supportive nature for those around him and his ability to communicate at all levels – including at the highest levels of the legal profession, the judiciary and government where he is well known and well respected.
When QPILCH started in 2001 Tony was its sole employee working from a donated office and focused on referrals of public interest matters to a handful of top tier private law firm members. Today LawRight occupies an entire hall with over 30 staff and hundreds of volunteers. It has over 100 members including 40 law firms, barristers and universities.
This growth can be attributed to the vision, innovation and inspiration that Tony brought to the organisation and shared with the rest of the LawRight team. He has been supported by some great presidents and committees who have actively supported his unwavering commitment and hard work. Tony has worked tirelessly to identify gaps in the delivery of legal services to the disadvantaged and to liaise with a variety of stakeholders across the community to invent, adopt or adapt effective pro bono solutions beyond the ongoing public interest referrals.
Some of his key achievements include:
- Building a pro bono organisation which gained the trust and participation of the legal profession and professional bodies leading to their unflagging support of the organisation. Studying self-representation services in the UK and the US on a Churchill Scholarship, and subsequently working with the Supreme and District Courts of Queensland – particularly with Chief Justice Paul Jersey AC, Court of Appeal President Margaret McMurdo AC and Chief Justice of the Federal Court, now of the High Court, Justice Patrick Keane AC – to commence the first self-representation civil law service in the Supreme and District Courts of Queensland with the essential support of its members. This model now exists in all Queensland courts and tribunals and in the Federal Court across Australia.
- Pioneering the first Walk for Justice in Australia in 2008 which this year raised $173,000 nationally and over $80,000 in Queensland to assist the work of pro bono clearing houses.
- Developing a series of specific clinics in conjunction with most of the university law schools in and around Brisbane. Law student engagement in the operation of QPILCH/LawRight continues to be a defining feature of its ability to provide assistance – an impressive feat given its limited funding. These clinics have supported clinical legal education in each of these universities and helped develop the pro bono ethos amongst the many law students involved.
- Attracting talented staff and building strong teams that have in turn developed more innovative programs, e.g. the LegalPod and Legal Health Check initiatives.
Maintaining a clear focus on those in need, particularly marginalised and disadvantaged Queenslanders, has meant that Tony’s legacy is also great value for money. Despite having developed a diverse funding base for LawRight, Tony still believes the major challenge for LawRight remains obtaining steady and appropriate levels of funding and the increasing need for collaboration with the legal profession, government, Legal Aid and CLCs.
He is most proud of the self-representation service which he says has seen wonderful outcomes and is so necessary for the many people who fall through the gaps in legal prevention services.
Values for which Tony was lauded at his farewell included leadership, professionalism, inspiration, innovation, passion, drive, hard work, humour and the love of good food, books and music.
Thanks, Tony, for making an extraordinary commitment and we doubt it will stop in whatever you do next!