New Zealand’s longest serving community law organisation says that a new approach is needed to meet the steadily growing demand for legal services from the most vulnerable members of society.
Auckland Community Law Centre (ACLC) says that demand for assistance has increased dramatically during and in the aftermath of the GFC and as government ministries operate under fiscal restraint.
With client numbers increasing from 1,500 in 2011 to an anticipated 3,600 for the year to June 2014, Jacqueline Lethbridge, Chair of ACLC Trust Board says that Auckland Community Law Centre is already working at capacity, without any further paid resources to meet demand.
“Our casework has more than doubled in the past three years. Our clients, who tend to be those on low incomes, present with issues such as access to housing, employment and beneficiary matters, managing debt and insolvency, dealing with domestic violence and administrative law matters.
“Community law centres were set up on the basis that access to justice and legal services is a universal right. The services that our organisation - and others like it - provide to the community are essential to preserve the social and economic rights of those in need.”
Auckland District Law Society Inc (ADLSI) is lending its support to these new calls to involve the pro bono sector.
ADLSI President, Brian Keene QC, says that creating public awareness of the need in the community is an important first step in providing support.
“There are significant benefits to the community and also to lawyers in being involved with and supporting the pro bono sector. Free legal services play a vital role in the work of community law organisations. Providing this support often goes unnoticed by the public.
“Auckland District Law Society was instrumental in setting up the Grey Lynn Neighbourhood Law approximately 35 years ago. It believes that the time to encourage more lawyers to become involved is now.”
The society has developed a free CPD webinar with the aim of informing lawyers on how they might develop an “informed” pro bono policy that fits with their altruistic objectives, while also deriving incidental benefits.
“The webinar will feature Auckland Community Law Centre and Bell Gully, a firm which has formed an intelligent, strategic model for the delivery of pro bono services which they will share during this address,” says Keene.
In addition to increased client numbers ACLC also provides information and education services to an estimated 2,500 additional people every year.
ACLC relies on volunteer lawyers, the numbers of which have increased since 2011 from 80 to 120, as well as student volunteers. These student volunteers have in turn been supported by ADLSI’s financial assistance. Despite this increase, Lethbridge says that ALCL is still unable to keep pace with increased demand.
“We anticipate even more demand for our services in the future. The legal aid and family justice systems have been reformed and we believe that this will have a real and negative impact on people’s access to justice.
“For Auckland Community Law Centre to meet this expected jump in demand we will have to find new ways of working, dramatically increase volunteers and encourage more lawyers to donate their time to support our work,” says Lethbridge.
ADLSI’s free webinar: Pro bono for professionals: A strategic approach to establishing an effective policy and practice
, is being held on Tuesday 1 July, at 12:00pm. Visit www.adls.org/cpd for more information.
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