Law firm cooperative launched to help vulnerable Kiwis find legal aid

by NZ Lawyer08 May 2017
A cooperative of law firms has been launched to help vulnerable New Zealanders struggling to find legal aid.

Legal Aid Providers Aotearoa (LAPA) will provide a 0800 number and a website designed to assist in finding a legal-aid lawyer quickly. The cooperative is a brainchild of Christchurch family lawyer Erin Ebborn, of Ebborn Law, and her CEO Jarrod Coburn.

“Up until now it has been very difficult for the public to identify and locate lawyers committed to delivering legal aid,” said Ebborn. “So the major beneficiaries of this cooperative will be social services and other organisations who work with people on low incomes, and the likes of women’s refuges who regularly seek urgent legal intervention for their clients.”

Citing figures from the Ministry of Justice, LAPA said the number of “family lead providers” for legal aid has almost halved in the past nine years, from 1,850 in June 2007 to 942 in June 2016.

“During that same period, the number of taxpayer-funded family court lawyers invoicing more than $200,000 shot up from five to 44,” LAPA said.

Members of the cooperative will share knowledge and skills in areas such as business operations, technology, and change management.

"The legal profession is in line for significant disruption," Ebborn said. "Someone needs to kick off a movement to future-proof law firms. A failure to keep up with the changing environment will have serious consequences for our most vulnerable people: those who need legal aid."

LAPA has approached 136 law firms across the country to join. Membership for the 2017/18 year will be determined during its first event held in Christchurch on 1 July.

“The legal sector is built on a tradition of integrity, professionalism and doing the right thing,” said Jarrod Coburn, the cooperative’s acting secretary. “It must retain those high standards but at the same time change the way it delivers services: adopting newer technologies and modern business paradigms.”

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