Mills Oakley provides new free legal service for Australia’s ‘missing middle’

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By Lauren Stubbs, Associate Lawyer

Legal need in Australia far outstrips the resources of government funded services, leaving many Australians without access to legal services. To tackle this issue, Mills Oakley has launched a new free legal service: Everyday Justice.

Everyday Justice provides free legal services to the “missing middle” – people who require legal assistance but who are ineligible for assistance from Legal Aid or other government funded services, and who cannot afford a lawyer without incurring substantial financial hardship.

Everyday Justice has been established as a public company limited by guarantee and is in the process of seeking registration as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission.

Meeting legal need in Australia

The Law Council of Australia, in its 2018 ‘Justice Project Final Report’, found that there is a critical shortfall in legal services available to the missing middle.[1] Unlike with education or healthcare, there is no universal system for people who require legal assistance in Australia, and securing funding for such services has proved challenging.

This often results in people needing to make tough choices when it comes to asserting their legal rights. Many people must represent themselves, which is often incredibly stressful, or are forced to give up their rights, which can have significant impacts on a person’s safety, wellbeing and/or financial security.[2] If Australians cannot afford to assert or enforce their legal rights, the law becomes meaningless. Everyday Justice hopes to change this.

As Sir Anthony Mason, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, said: “a first-class court system and a first-class legal profession are of no avail to a person who cannot afford to access them.”[3]

How Everyday Justice will help

Everyday Justice hopes to alleviate the undue hardship faced by the missing middle by providing free legal services in the following areas:

  • Employment;
  • Tenancy;
  • Credit and debt;
  • Bankruptcy;
  • Financial abuse;
  • Fines and infringements;
  • Human rights;
  • Climate change law; and
  • Other public interest matters.

These areas have been identified as in high demand amongst the missing middle, with demand continuing to increase in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

Everyday Justice emphasises accessibility by providing nation-wide legal services online, over the phone and in person. This ensures vulnerable people, such as people with disabilities, older people and those in rural or remote communities, can still access legal services, irrespective of physical impediments.

The firm offers free 30-minute phone and video appointments for anyone who needs legal advice about the above issues. They can also provide more intensive free legal services, such as drafting documents and representing clients, subject to an eligibility test.

The decision to launch the firm has received significant support across the community and within the legal profession. Australian Pro Bono Centre CEO Gabriela Christian-Hare states “Mills Oakley is to be congratulated for establishing and investing in Everyday Justice as a vehicle through which vulnerable Australians can obtain pro bono legal support across a range of critical areas”.

The team at Everyday Justice

The Everyday Justice team will be staffed and supported by individuals with significant experience in the provision of pro bono legal services.

Mills Oakley Partner, Luke Geary, chairs the Board of Everyday Justice. Luke has a long history in the provision of pro bono legal services, being the founder of Australia’s first ever Social Enterprise law firm, Salvos Legal and sister law firm, Salvos Legal Humanitarian. Luke has previously been named as one of the 25 most influential people in the Australian Social Sector, as well as having been Australia’s Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year, and separately being honoured as an Anzac of the Year, for his contribution to the law.

The day-to-day operations are run by Managing Lawyer, Amy Burton, who was named Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year at the Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Awards. Amy also spent time learning about innovative not-for-profit law firm structures during her time as a General Sir John Monash Scholar at Georgetown University in Washington DC in 2019.

Mills Oakley Partner Vera Visevic, who is a renowned governance expert, will also serve on the board as a director (and company secretary), together with legal innovator Terri Mottershead, who is also the Executive Director of the College of Law’s Centre for Legal Innovation.

Many lawyers working at Mills Oakley have also signed up to do pro bono work for Everyday Justice, demonstrating the strong commitment from within the firm to give back to the community.

An opportunity for young lawyers

Everyday Justice is committed to the development of young lawyers, and to providing new graduates with a pathway to a career in social justice. The firm acknowledges that as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the broader legal profession’s graduate intake has been cut back, leaving many new graduates in a difficult position.

To address this, Everyday Justice has partnered with the College of Law to set up a national internship program for law graduates interested in pursuing careers, where they can make a valuable impact to people from vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. The program provides interns with intensive training, as well as practical legal experience, in order to ensure they develop the skills needed to pursue a career in social justice.

Contacting Everyday Justice

Everyday Justice can be contacted by:

[1] Justice Project Final Report, 2018, page 1115.

[2] Justice Project Final Report, 2018, National Legal Aid Submission, Submission No 128, page 281.

[3] Keynote speech to the Public Interest Law Clearing House 10th Anniversary Dinner, 2004.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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