Quarterly News - December 2016

Welcome to the December 2016 quarterly news, a snapshot of our work and the people who contribute to Fitzroy Legal Service.

Community BBQ

On Sunday 4 December, the Fitzroy Legal Service held a Community BBQ in the courtyard area of the Fitzroy Town Hall. Over 150 members of the local community attended and were treated to music from some of the finest local musicians - Bart Willoughby & Fadil Suna, Eritrean band Muktar Said, Ermias Gebremariam & Joseph Amine, and the Richmond Chinese Community Choir. Thank you to the Melbourne Stars Cricket Club for their support of the event and to the staff and volunteers who assisted throughout the afternoon.

The Law Handbook 2017 is available!

The 39th edition of The Law Handbook was published on Tuesday 22 November 2016. The 2017 edition contains updated entries for multiple areas of the law, and contains two new chapters - trade marks and sex work. The Law Handbook 2017 can be purchased from Fitzroy Legal Service’s online store or at our office at the Fitzroy Town Hall. Current Fitzroy Legal Service members and volunteers are able to purchase The Law Handbook 2017 at the discounted price of $85.50 via telephone order (9419 3744; postage fees will apply) or in person at our office.

2016 Tim McCoy Award

Congratulations to Fitzroy Legal Service’s Meghan Fitzgerald and Denise Gardner from the Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre who were jointly awarded the 2016 Tim McCoy Award in November. Fantastic recognition of outstanding work, well done Meg and Denise!

(Wilma McCoy, Denise Gardner, Meghan Fitzgerald, Van Badham)

Trainee Lawyer Melissa Chen

Congratulations to our 2016 Trainee Lawyer Melissa Chen who was recently admitted to practice. Melissa has been working with Fitzroy Legal Service since March 2016 and has recently secured a position with the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission. We wish Melissa well for her future career in the law!

Annual General Meeting and 2015-2016 Annual Report

The Fitzroy Legal Service 2016 Annual General Meeting was held on Thursday 24 November. At the meeting the 2015-2016 Annual Report was tabled; read it here.

Fitzroy Social Club, supporting the work of the Fitzroy Legal Service

Thanks to the support of Aunt Maggie’s Organics, two fantastic Christmas Hampers are being raffled. Tickets are $5 each and can be purchased here.

Thanks to the support of the Napier Hotel, a weekly Friday night raffle has been conducted throughout 2016. The raffles have been well supported by local community members and others enjoying the Napier’s hospitality. We are looking for volunteers to assist with the raffle throughout 2017. If you are interested to find out more, please email Claudia Fatone, our Executive Officer, at [email protected]

An evening with the free legal advice service

Fitzroy Legal Service Communications Intern Chloe Jenkins recently spent some time at the free legal advice (night service) and put pen to paper on her observations.

Even when the day-staff finish up, it doesn’t quieten down at Fitzroy Town Hall. Up on Level 4, Fitzroy Legal Service’s free legal advice service is just getting started. Even before the night service officially starts, there are clients in the courtyard getting their documents in order. Upstairs, the volunteers are busy setting up, too &mdash ;copies of the most recent edition of The Law Handbook are neatly laid out on the desks in the centre of the office, along with an empty tray for the client files. Adrian Snodgrass, senior lawyer and night service manager, is meeting with the volunteers and preparing for what will be another busy night.

When the night service officially opens in the evening, the waiting room fills quickly. The clients are diverse; some come in alone, clutching hefty sheafs of paperwork. Others have family or children in tow. The tray that was empty at the start of the night is filled with manila folders by 7 p.m. and the night is well underway. The interview rooms are soon occupied and there is a constant hum of conversation. It’s impossible to predict what will be thrown at the volunteer lawyers on a nightly basis. Financial issues, workplace issues, family issues, driving offences — the list goes on.

Watching the volunteers work is an amazing experience. In one of the interview rooms, volunteer lawyer Chris sits down with a client. The client, perhaps uncertain of what documentation will be the most useful, has brought in a bundle of paperwork. While the client explains his problem, Chris calmly looks through the paperwork with a practiced eye, picking out the information that is relevant to the client’s issue. It soon becomes evident that the issue will require more aid than the night service is able to offer. However, this doesn’t mean that the client is left high and dry. Chris begins locating the resources that will be most useful to the client. He explains who to contact for more help, writing out a contact number and business address, and listens patiently as the client voices his concerns.

When the meeting is over, Chris explains that one of the most important things working in the night service is a sense of empathy for the clients. Sometimes, clients come in with issues that can’t be solved by the volunteers. In these cases, there are a number of things the volunteers try to do — this includes directing clients towards people and organisations more equipped to provide assistance, explaining the kinds of documentation that they should try to collect, walking them through potential problems that they may face if they continue and, most essentially, making sure that clients feel heard and respected.

As Adrian reads through the next file, he already has an idea that it could be a complicated matter. Despite knowing that it could be complex, his demeanour remains calm and reassuring as he escorts the client to a table. Within a couple of minutes, he’s already picked out a number of things that need attention. The breadth of knowledge that the lawyers need to have, or to be able to follow up, is almost overwhelming. When looking at a new matter, the lawyers are processing a number of factors which could include a range of issues. For example, a lawyer may need to consider the impact of international laws on Victorian laws, the time-urgency of a client’s situation, how long they will need to make applications, individual circumstances that might alter client outcomes, circumstances that might impact the legal process, what resources a client may need to access and more.

There are many different volunteers at the night service; there are lawyers, paralegals, law students, and more, all working together for the benefit of the clients. Back at the volunteer desk, the paralegals are busy collecting information, reviewing relevant sections of The Law Handbook, sourcing legal documents and writing up communications for clients. As senior lawyers, both Adrian and Chris are in high demand. Not only are they speaking to clients themselves, but they are also helping other volunteers by reviewing, guiding and discussing the best course of action in the numerous scenarios presented to them. When one of the fourth year law students was asked why she wanted to volunteer with Fitzroy Legal Service, it was its reputation for being community-focussed that made it an appealing place to volunteer. She also knew that she would have the chance to deal with a large variety of issues and gain practical experience.

The most striking image of the night was a nondescript tray of badges. I only met about twelve volunteers during Tuesday’s night service, but that tray was full of volunteer name tags. It really brought home just how many people volunteer their time and work hard to help those who need it. There are no fancy secretaries; from photocopying to research to interviewing clients, everyone does their part. Many of the volunteers come to the night service after a full day of work, such is their dedication. Not only is the night service valuable to clients, but it brings together an amazing group of people.

Brian Wright, Fitzroy Legal Service Life Member and Law Handbook Contributor

Brian Wright is a Victorian Magistrate, appointed in 2004, who specialises in the WorkCover jurisdiction. Brian is a long-serving legal volunteer; he started volunteering in 1974 and has been a volunteer with Fitzroy Legal Service since 1978. Despite being busy with his duties as a Magistrate and a Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal member, he continues to work with Fitzroy Legal Service as a part of the Publications Committee.

Brian did his undergraduate degree at Monash University before completing his Master of Laws at The University of Melbourne. His pathway into law was a matter of luck and circumstance. Initially aiming for a place in the Diplomatic Corps, this aspiration became impossible when Malcolm Fraser closed enrolments to the program. As Brian had also undertaken a law degree at the time, he moved forward with his back-up plan. It was meant to be; despite being fairly late to the game with his application, he was able to get articles with Slater and Gordon. Working with Slater and Gordon, Brian did a bit of everything; it was the same when he went to bar – he did anything and everything. However, the subjects he really enjoyed while studying in university were personal injury law and worker’s compensation, and he has a great depth of knowledge in these areas.

It didn’t take long for Brian to get involved with community legal services. The other article clerk that Brian was working with at Slater and Gordon was involved in setting up Nunawading Legal Service (which has now become the Eastern Community Legal Service) and that was the first legal service he was involved with. When he completed his post-graduate studies, Brian was already living in Fitzroy, so Fitzroy Legal Service was conveniently located just up the road. Having been with Fitzroy Legal Service for such a long time, Brian has been around for many big events and changes. He vividly remembers when the Brunswick Street office burned down. At the time, staff members were not only dealing with the fire but with finding new facilities and managing the clients.

On a more positive note, volunteering with Fitzroy Legal Service gave Brian the chance to work with many different people who were already experienced in the legal field. In fact, during his time with the Fitzroy Legal Service, Brian worked with a Supreme Court Judge, three lawyers who went on to become County Court Judges and at least four Magistrates, as well as many others. Being involved with community legal services is no small task; a lot of time, effort and care are put into looking after clients and their needs. One of the things that Brian found as he worked with legal services is that there is satisfaction in being able to really help clients who need it. ‘It forced me to sort of deal with real people, deal with real problems,’ he says, ‘and as satisfactory a thing as it is for me, hopefully, that’s what the clients get from me when I give legal advice.’

When asked how he became a contributor to The Law Handbook, he replied with good humour, ‘I started volunteering at Fitzroy Legal Service in 1978 and the legal resources book – the loose leaf one – had only just been out. I took a look at the chapters I was interested in and I said to the editor, Julian Gardiner, ‘Look, I think these are fairly basic…’ and he said, ‘Okay, well, you’ll redo them.’ So Brian’s initial involvement in working with The Law Handbook was a case of being forcefully encouraged to volunteer (and, to The Law Handbook’s benefit, he continued to do so). Brian believes in The Law Handbook, not just as a low-cost and comprehensive resource for the every day person, but as valuable tool for lawyers. He says that many lawyers keep the text on-hand in case someone asks for advice in an area they aren’t sure about, that way they can just flip it open and get a concise overview of the matter.

Outside of the law, Brian describes himself as a bit of a mad traveller – and his adventures are not for the faint of heart. Over the years, he’s been on many high altitude trekking trips, conquering the likes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the Inca Trail in Peru and Mount Toubkal in Morocco. Brian’s not going to be doing so much trekking on his next trip. Instead, he’ll be exploring Hong Kong and maybe just catching the famous Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak!

Christmas/New Year Operating Hours

Free legal advice service: final night, Thursday 15 December; closed from Friday 16 December; open again Monday 9 January 2017. Our office: closed from 1 p.m., Friday 23 December; open again at 9 a.m., Tuesday 3 January 2017.