This chapter contains information for pro bono providers about
- community legal centres (CLCs); and
- specialist services for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities, which are referred to as Indigenous Legal Organisations (ILOs) for the purpose of this chapter. The Centre acknowledges that different Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples may prefer the usage of different terms, and the Centre recommend checking with individuals on the term by which they prefer to best be identified.
It is important for pro bono practices to understand the role of CLCs and ILOs to build collaborative relationships with these organisations. They have strong links to local communities and can support the pro bono sector on understanding and responding to unmet legal need. They may be in a position to refer matters to pro bono law firms, and on occasion may be an appropriate point of referral when a firm is unable to assist.
CLCs are independent, non-for-profit organisations that provide legal services for individuals and communities, particularly to people facing economic hardship, discrimination and disadvantage, often for free. Many CLCs are also engaged in policy and law reform work and community legal education. Nearly 180 organisations throughout Australia are accredited as CLCs by Community Legal Centres Australia, the peak body for CLCs in Australia.
ILOs provide specialised, culturally safe services that provide legal and justice-related services to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Both CLCs and ILOs are primarily government funded. Some services are also supported by philanthropic funding and donations from the public.
- 3.2.1 Pro bono partnerships
- 3.2.2 Community Legal Centres
- 3.2.3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Organisations and other services
3.2.1 PRO BONO PARTNERSHIPS
CLCs and ILOs may be willing to partner with pro bono providers for the purpose of improving access to justice for their clients.
These partnerships can involve law firms:
- delivering legal services to clients by accepting referrals or participating in clinics
- participating in community legal education and law reform work
- building the capacity of the organisation by seconding lawyers, providing pro bono legal help to the organisation, providing training and mentoring to lawyers or working together on matters on a co-counselling basis.
As a result of their day-to-day exposure to the legal issues experienced by people in their communities, the workers in CLCs and ILOs have skills in particular areas of law and practice which lawyers working in firms may not have. An equal partnership that recognises the complementary nature of the parties’ skills and experience, and seeks an exchange of skills, can be mutually beneficial.
Community Legal Centres Australia organises the National CLC Conference each year. Attending this conference (and/or any State-based equivalent, for example, the CLC NSW Quarterlies) can be a good opportunity for pro bono practices to meet and network with CLCs.
See Chapter 1.14 Training and skills.
For more information on developing partnerships with CLCs and case studies see What Works, Chapter 12 Community legal centres.
For more information on developing partnerships with ILOs, see the ATSILS PRO BONO GUIDE: A guide to the delivery of pro bono legal services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) and their clients.
3.2.2 COMMUNITY LEGAL CENTRES
In 2019-2020, according to the CLCs Australia Annual Report, CLCs helped 194,230 people, with 142 centres providing 702,234 services nationally, including 205,093 legal advices. There are almost 180 CLCs in Australia. Some CLCs are considered ‘generalist’ centres– these provide services in a specific geographical area. Others are considered ‘specialist’ centres – these provide assistance to a particular client group, such as women or young people, or in a particular area of law, such as migration law, disability law, mental health law, tenancy, or consumer credit. Generalist CLCs may also be funded to operate a specialist service, for example for tenants, people experiencing elder abuse, or people in prison.
CLCs vary considerably in size and many involve volunteer lawyers and law students in their service provision. CLCs are governed by volunteer boards or committees of management.
As noted above, the national peak body for CLCs is Community Legal Centres Australia. There are also State CLC associations, including:
- New South Wales: Community Legal Centres NSW
- Victoria: Federation of Community Legal Centres Vic
- Queensland: Community Legal Centres Queensland
- Western Australia: Community Legal WA.
There are also networks of CLCs organised around particular issues or themes, including young people’s rights, social security, human rights, tenancy, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s rights, disability rights, and rural, regional and remote issues. These networks engage in policy work and joint initiatives and they can be another point of contact for pro bono practices.
SERVICES PROVIDED BY COMMUNITY LEGAL CENTRES
CLC services are targeted towards people who cannot afford to engage a lawyer or who are ineligible for legal aid. CLCs focus on areas of law most relevant to people experiencing disadvantage. For context, of the people assisted by CLCs in 2020-21, 22.5% were people with disability, 11.9% were people in rural, regional and remote areas and 7.8% were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. 9.6% of those assisted by CLCs also reported having no income and 6.4% reported experiencing homelessness.
LEGAL ADVICE, REFERRAL AND CASEWORK
CLCs provide legal advice services through a mix of in-person, phone and online delivery. CLCs operate legal advice clinics at their premises and at outreach locations, including community centres, healthcare settings, prisons and schools. Some advice clinics are operated out of business hours for the convenience of clients.
The areas of law covered by generalist CLCs include employment, social security, consumer credit, housing, discrimination, protection from violence, assistance to victims of crime, and aspects of family law and criminal law not able to be covered by Legal Aid Commissions (LACs).
For many clients, CLCs are the first point of contact about a legal issue. Many CLCs work in partnership with other community services, such as domestic and family violence organisations, community health organisations and housing services, in order to provide holistic help and to avoid the escalation of legal issues. Many CLCs operate services co-located at schools, community centres and healthcare settings. The growth in ‘health justice partnerships’ is an example of the community legal sector and health sector working together to deliver better health and justice outcomes.
Many CLCs provide casework services in addition to advice services. Matters are accepted according to guidelines having regard to factors such as conflicts of interest, the other services that are available, the needs of the local community, the requirements of any funding agreements, the hardship that may be suffered by the client if assistance is not provided, the likelihood that acting in a particular matter may benefit a group of disadvantaged people beyond the particular client, and whether the CLC has the relevant expertise and capacity to assist the client.
CLCs generally do not provide assistance with personal injury matters, or in criminal law or family law matters where legal aid is available.
COMMUNITY LEGAL EDUCATION
CLCs are very active in providing community legal education (CLE). In 2019/20, CLCs undertook 6,615 CLE activities. CLE aims to help people to avoid legal problems or to assist the resolution of legal problems. It also equips people to understand their legal rights. The way in which CLE is delivered varies widely, from visits to schools and community groups, to working with local media or community development projects. Some CLCs also produce educational material in plain English and other languages.
LAW REFORM AND POLICY WORK
CLCs play an important role in identifying legal issues that affect their communities and client groups. CLCs do this through participating in advisory committees, writing law reform submissions and working with government. Through the experience of their advice and casework services, CLCs have direct insight into how the law affects their clients and local communities.
3.2.3 INDIGENOUS LEGAL ORGANISATIONS
The Centre acknowledges that different Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples may prefer the usage of different terms, and the Centre recommend checking with individuals on the term by which they prefer to best be identified. Thethe term ‘Indigenous Legal Organisations’, or acronym ‘ILOs’, is used in this chapter to describe legal services for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander clients and include:
- North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency
- Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia
- Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, South Australia
- Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld) Ltd
- Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited
- Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service
ILOs provide legal and justice-related community services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They are community-controlled, not for profit organisations governed by independent boards.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) was established as the peak body for ATSILS in 2007. NATSILS advocates at the national level for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the justice system and works to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have equitable access to justice.
SERVICES PROVIDED BY ILOs
ILOs have eligibility criteria for their services. For casework assistance, a means test is used, and confirmation that a person is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander may be required. ILOs generally provide assistance in the following areas of law:
- family law: child protection, domestic violence and general family law matters, with a focus on seeking to maintain the family unit where possible
- civil law: including employment law, fines, victims assistance, police complaints, tenancy issues, and credit and debt
- criminal law: legal advice, assistance, representation and duty lawyer services to clients in criminal law matters.
Some ILOs also operate custody notification services, whereby police notify the relevant ILO when an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is taken into police custody. These legal advice and assistance services generally operate 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
ILOs are also funded to provide justice-related services to community members. One example of the specialist programs run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld) is the prisoner ‘throughcare’ program. The program aims to reduce repeat offending by addressing the throughcare needs of adult prisoners and juvenile detainees. ‘Throughcare’ is the coordinated provision of support to an offender, beginning with their initial contact with correctional services and continuing until the offender has successfully reintegrated into the community.
ILOs, both individually, and through NATSILS, provide advice and submissions on issues that relate to the justice system and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. ILOs also provide CLE which assists with the prevention of, and early intervention in, legal problems.
FAMILY VIOLENCE PREVENTION LEGAL SERVICES
Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) are community-controlled, not-for-profit organisations providing holistic and culturally-safe legal services to victims and survivors of family violence and sexual assault. They deliver CLE and early intervention and prevention activities to raise awareness of rights and reduce family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In May 2012, the National FVPLS Forum was established. It is currently comprised of 13 member organisations.
The primary function of an FVPLS is to provide legal assistance, casework, counselling and court support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and children.
Legal help is primarily provided by FVPLS in the areas of:
- family violence;
- protective restraining orders;
- child protection;
- victims of crime assistance; and
- witness assistance law.
Some services also provide assistance with other civil law issues arising from family violence such as police complaints, tenancy, Centrelink, infringements and child support matters.
FVPLS organisations adopt a holistic service delivery model that prioritises legal service delivery , while recognising that clients typically have multiple and complex legal needs. Although the models of each FVPLS differ, they are all heavily client-focused, with the goal of encouraging their clients to remain engaged with the legal system and to attend and participate in court processes. In addition to legal support, they offer non-legal help, such as practical and emotional support at court, referrals and liaison with other agencies.
For further information, see the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services website.
INDIGENOUS WOMEN’S LEGAL SERVICES
A number of Indigenous Islander women’s legal services operate throughout Australia. Most of these services are provided by CLCs, typically a women’s legal centre, although some services are located within other not-for-profit organisations.
Indigenous Women‘s legal centres in New South Wales, South Australia, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory run programs which provide legal assistance to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women. Services include legal advice, casework, court representation, CLE and outreach clinics to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women in rural and remote areas. Other services operate as standalone CLCs, for example the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Services NQ Inc., a CLC that provides advice, casework, outreach clinics and CLE workshops to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women in North Queensland.
This chapter was reviewed in 2022 by the Australian Pro Bono Centre and the pro bono team at MinterEllison, headed by Keith Rovers. The Centre acknowledges and is grateful for the generous contributions of all those who assisted with the 2022 refresh of the Australian Pro Bono Manual.
 Australian Pro Bono Centre, ATSILS PRO BONO GUIDE: A Guide to the Delivery of Pro Bono Legal Services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) and their clients (Web Page, October 2009) <https://www.probonocentre.org.au/legal-help/atsils-pbg/>.
 Community Legal Centres Australia, Community Community Legal Centres Australia Annual Report 2019-20 (Report, 2017) 29 <https://clcs.org.au/sites/default/files/2020-11/CLCs%20Australia%20Annual%20Report%202019-2020.pdf>.Community Legal Centres Australia, About Us (Web Page, 2021) <https://clcs.org.au/about-community-legal-centres>.
 Community Legal WA, Who we are (Web Page, 2022) <https://www.communitylegalwa.org.au/vision-and-values>.
 Community Legal Centres Australia, Community Community Legal Centres Australia Annual Report 2019-20 (Report, 2017) 29 <https://clcs.org.au/sites/default/files/2020-11/CLCs%20Australia%20Annual%20Report%202019-2020.pdf>.
 Health Justice Australia, What is a health justice partnership? (Web Page, 2022) <https://www.healthjustice.org.au/hjp/what-is-a-health-justice-partnership/>.
 Community Legal Centres Australia, Community Legal Centres Australia Annual Report 2019-20 (Report, 2017) 29 <https://clcs.org.au/sites/default/files/2020-11/CLCs%20Australia%20Annual%20Report%202019-2020.pdf>.
 ATSILS providing these services include Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (South Australia) and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.
 Women’s Legal Service NSW, First Nations Women’s Legal Program (Web Page, 2022) <https://www.wlsnsw.org.au/legal-services/indigenous-womens-legal-program/>.
 Women’s Legal Service SA, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Women’s Program (Web Page, 2022) <https://www.wlssa.org.au/aboriginal-ts-islander-womens-progr >.
 Women’s Legal Service WA, Djinda Service (Web page, 2022) <https://www.wlswa.org.au/what-we-do/djinda-service/>.