Page 1480 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 9 May 2017
Lawyers are in a position of privilege. We have been given the opportunity to learn the law and gain knowledge in areas that not everyone has had the opportunity to do. This instils in us a duty to serve our community, to identify and acknowledge injustices and to use our knowledge to right those injustices. Australian lawyers, on average, undertake approximately 35 hours of pro bono work each year. This pro bono work ranges from legal advice to drafting legal documents through to advocacy in courts and tribunals.
Within a year of being admitted as a lawyer, I signed up to volunteer for the ACT Law Society’s Legal Advice Bureau—LAB for short. This is a service that provides free legal advice to the Canberra community, ranging from traffic infringements to tenancy matters, personal protection orders and bankruptcy. The clients that I saw while volunteering at LAB came from all walks of life, but mostly people from a socially disadvantaged background who had, for some reason or another, found themselves in need of a little help.
In my role as a lecturer for ANU Legal Workshop, I was fortunate to be an instructor in their legal aid clinic program—LAC—where I would supervise law students and give free legal advice to members of the public who may not be in a position to pay for the services of a lawyer.
I know that I am in a privileged position to be able to make a difference to the lives of those who find themselves in need of legal assistance. I know that I am in a privileged position to be able to make a difference to the lives of law students, who learn a lot from seeing a real client with real legal issues and to hear real legal advice being given by a real lawyer.
For me it may be an hour of my time, but for one client it may mean that they are not being bullied into paying tens of thousands of dollars to a landlord taking advantage of a tenant who cannot speak English. For me it may be an hour of my time but for one client it may mean they are not signing away rights to legal action under pressure from an overzealous insurer seeking to take advantage of someone who wants their legal problem to “just go away”.
But I was in a pretty comfortable job, whilst in practice and as a lecturer, and had the luxury of providing some time to provide these volunteer legal services. There are, however, other lawyers who devote their entire professional lives to community law. To all the lawyers that I know who had the option but sacrificed the higher income, the parking spot or the swish coffee machine to work the long hours and take on the emotional burden of assisting Canberra’s most disadvantaged, I say thank you.
I truly believe that most—maybe I cannot go as far as to say all—lawyers do serve their profession and their community in a way that benefits our most disadvantaged. But to the lawyers who work at ACT Legal Aid, Aboriginal Legal Service, Women’s Legal Centre, the EDO and Canberra Community Law, encompassing services in housing, social security, homelessness and socio-legal support, particularly in times of uncertainty about their future, I say thank you.