Storytelling in CLCs work – Reasons, Roles and Risks was the theme of this year’s National CLCs Conference, held on 25-27 August in Melbourne. Over 600 delegates attended, representing CLCs, not-for-profits, law firms, government agencies and universities. They shared stories and learned how to use storytelling to engage, educate, advocate and inspire. Above all, they learned that stories are powerful.
The art of storytelling
Shawn Callahan (Anecdote) opened the conference with a session on strategic storytelling and ran a workshop on the basic skills of business storytelling. Darren Lewin-Hill (Federation of CLCs (Victoria)) offered guidance on engaging with the media to reach a wider audience.
Several sessions focused on storytelling through film-making. Alexandria Jones (North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency) presented Community Law Stories, a legal education resource that empowers indigenous people to tell stories that resonate in their communities and that will be passed on. Edwina MacDonald (Kingsford Legal Centre), Ella Semega-Janneh and Martin Barker (Redfern Legal Centre) discussed the practical and ethical considerations in using film to tell clients’ stories. Lucy Adams (Justice Connect) outlined how allowing homeless clients to tell their own stories on film had afforded them agency in law reform.
Pro bono partnerships and collaboration
The Centre’s Senior Policy Officer Afton Fife co-facilitated “Pro Bono relationships: love or war stories and how to find that special partner together” with Leanne Ho, Pro Bono Development Lawyer (Henry Davis York). On the panel were Rebecca McMahon, Manager, Pro Bono Relationships (Justice Connect), Natalie Davidson, Fundraising (Women’s Legal Service Queensland) and Dan Creasey, Special Counsel, Director of Corporate Responsibility (CBP Lawyers).
Rebecca indicated that the keys to a successful pro bono partnership are mutual respect between pro bono partners, and managing expectations by establishing and regularly reviewing systems and guidelines that define the relationship. Dan agreed, and made it clear that pro bono partnerships were no different to other client relationships. Community partners should expect high standards of service and he recommended that both parties outline their expectations of the relationship in an MOU or similar document. Dan also suggested that both firms and community partners should limit the number of their pro bono relationships — “do less and do it best”.
Natalie commended CBP – WLSQ’s pro bono partner – on the breadth of pro bono support it has provided to WLSQ, which includes legal services, advice on governance, administrative support and facilities support. She recommended that CLCs resource their ancillary functions, such as accounting, by seeking expert volunteers through existing networks, as this allows the CLC to focus on core service delivery.
Family violence and sexual abuse
A number of presenters, including Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, spoke movingly about how telling their own stories of family violence – or the stories of others affected – had opened the door to change, both in terms of a national conversation and policy reform.
Craig Hughes-Cashmore told how he’d experienced first-hand the legal system’s shortcomings as an instrument of justice for victims of sexual abuse, and how he’d responded by founding the Survivors and Mates Support Network (SAMSN). SAMSN works “to increase public awareness of the effects that childhood sexual abuse can have on men in their adult lives” and also runs 8-week structured counselling programs for male victims of abuse.
Improving access to justice for indigenous Australians
Dr Dylan Coleman (School of Population Health, University of Adelaide) outlined the movement to recognise native title rights which are enshrined in King William IV’s 1836 Letters Patent, SA’s founding document. Dr Coleman also presented the short film Walking with Us – a collection of stories told by indigenous elders in SA about the importance of cultural protocol. Rachel Ball (Human Rights Law Centre) spoke about the importance of inviting indigenous clients to tell their own stories to support indigenous advocacy, drawing on her Victoria Law Foundation’s Fellowship Report “When I tell my story I am in charge – ethical and effective storytelling in advocacy“.
Outreach and RRR legal services
Seranie Gamble (NT Legal Aid Commission) discussed successful strategies for outreach legal services employed in the often difficult environmental conditions present in the Northern Territory. Jenny Lovric (Legal Aid NSW) demonstrated IDPlacemaker, an online tool for demographic analysis which provides a valuable evidence base for outreach work. Jenny also discussed the Collective Impact collaborative framework. Annie Nash (National Rural Law and Justice Alliance) spoke of collaborating with corporates for RRR justice and the importance of values congruence.
Solving legal problems with practical solutions
In an energetic and diverse session delegates heard from 10 different speakers about their innovative projects in “BIG TED small talks.” Denise Boyd (Consumer Action Law Centre) told how distributing “Do not Knock” stickers has reduced the incidence of door-to-door sales of unnecessary insurance. Sue Garlick (QPILCH) explained how distributing the Legal Health Check to non-legal service providers helps them identify their clients’ legal problems. Janice Loughman (Women’s Legal Services NSW) took out the prize for the best ‘small talk’ for her powerful presentation on the legal assistance that WLS NSW provided to the women of the Bethcar Children’s Home at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.
Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, Attorney-General of Australia, gave the closing address.
Senator Brandis began by acknowledging the importance of the work done by the sector in assisting vulnerable Australians in their interaction with the legal system – often at their moment of greatest vulnerability. He cited collaborative service planning as key to ensuring the community legal sector remains sustainable, to “avoid a siloed approach to service delivery and maximise and concentrate where it is most needed, the available government funding”.