Story 18: Low Bono Employment Law Assistance for the Missing Middle

2020-Present: New South Wales

Sparke Helmore Lawyers partnered with Marrickville Legal Centre (MLC) in the development of the Marrickville Low Bono Employment Service (Low Bono), which launched in early 2020.

Low Bono is an innovative service providing employment law assistance to the “missing middle”—a large section of the community who cannot afford professional legal advice but who also don’t meet Legal Aid or pro bono eligibility tests. The service addresses a large gap in access to justice for low-income earners with a model that provides affordable and significantly reduced fixed-fee representation to clients who, before its launch, would not have had access to community legal services. The fees collected from Low Bono are then directed into MLC’s 100% pro bono programs.

This service not only provides access to justice to a segment of society that is often forgotten by mainstream pro bono services, but it was also established as a new wave of vulnerable workers emerged during the pandemic. With increasing employment uncertainty throughout COVID-19 and related lockdowns, Low Bono has been crucial to ensuring the “missing middle” are aware of their rights and options for recourse.

Sparke Helmore Lawyers manage rotating secondments to Low Bono, where their lawyers take phone calls from clients categorised as the “missing middle”, then provide employment advice to them and advocate for clients at conciliations, under the supervision of MLC. The types of matters the secondees work on include general protections claims, unfair dismissals, Australian Human Rights Commission complaints, underpayment claims and stop bullying applications. Sparke Helmore Lawyers has provided 8 secondments since Low Bono’s launch, with the lawyers providing up to 30 hours of assistance a week.

Since the launch of Low Bono, MLC has represented almost 200 clients through this program and has recovered over $1.7 million for its clients. MLC has also recovered over $75,000 in fees from clients, which it will use to further its pro bono legal services for clients suffering significant disadvantage.

This story was submitted by Sparke Helmore Lawyers.