Story 4: Refugee Legal Clinic Involves Hundreds of Pro Bono Lawyers

2016 – Ongoing: Victoria

Refugee Legal logo

Lander & Rogers has worked in partnership with Refugee Legal for over ten years to provide critical legal help, under Refugee Legal’s supervision, for people seeking asylum, refugees, and vulnerable migrants.

In 2015, the Federal Government began processing the cases of 31,000 people seeking asylum who arrived by boat in Australia between 13 August 2012 and 1 January 2014 under the newly-introduced Fast Track Assessment process. This complex and onerous process with limited means of review required completion of forms containing numerous pages of detailed and technical questions, all in English. Concurrently, the funding of legal assistance for these people who had arrived by boat was cut.

Following the introduction of the Fast Track Assessment process, Lander & Rogers’ collaboration with Refugee Legal strengthened to address an unprecedented level of demand experienced by Refugee Legal, with more than 11,000 asylum seekers in Victoria requiring legal assistance.

This demand increased further when, early in 2017, the government imposed a 1 October 2017 deadline for lodging applications.

Refugee Legal worked with Lander & Rogers to strengthen its existing legal clinic model ─ pioneered by Refugee Legal more than 15 years earlier ─ to develop a new corporate clinic program. Rather than individual pro bono volunteers participating on weekends, the program was designed to recruit corporate law firms to provide regular volunteers to assist Refugee Legal to staff each clinic, matching crucial legal need with pro bono lawyer capacity.   

The clinic program exponentially increased both the number of lawyers volunteering for Refugee Legal and the number of people they assisted.  The model has transformed the delivery of quality legal services to asylum seekers and displaced people and is now adopted worldwide by NGOs and identified by the UNHCR as best practice.

In 2020-21, the Refugee Legal Clinic model provided more than 3,000 instances of legal assistance and included hundreds of lawyers from 18 pro bono law firms. The model is used to address other areas of high-volume legal need, including:

  • The Fast Track Clinic: Assisting people on temporary visas subject to the Fast Track Assessment process
  • Afghanistan Clinic: Assisting with the emergency evacuation of hundreds of people from Kabul in August 2021, and providing legal assistance to people in Australia impacted by the crisis in Afghanistan
  • Myanmar Clinic: Providing legal assistance to people in Australia impacted by the crisis in Myanmar with onshore protection applications
  • Family Violence Clinic: Providing legal assistance to women on temporary visas who have experienced family violence.

In 2016, the key people involved included David Burke and Jo Renkin from Lander & Rogers, and David Manne and Bianca De Toma from Refugee Legal.

In 2022, Ben Goulding heads up the Legal Clinic program and Harmonie Cribbes is the Volunteer Coordinator.

This story was submitted by Lander & Rogers.