12.11.2020Working Together: Hall & Wilcox

1/ How does your organisation contribute to the wellbeing of society?

Hall & Wilcox is a leading independent Australian law firm. We are a firm of around 750 people delivering outstanding legal services to corporate, public sector and private clients, both Australian-based and those offshore doing business in Australia. The firm prides itself in striving to achieve our purpose which is to enable our clients, our people and our communities to thrive.

One of the main ways we enable our communities to thrive is through our Pro Bono & Community practice, in which we provide our collective legal expertise for the benefit of vulnerable individuals and not-for-profit organisations. In the 2019/2020 financial year, our people dedicated a total of 11,674 hours to pro bono work, amounting to an average of 31.9 hours per lawyer – worth more than $2,500,000.

2/ Prior to COVID-19, did your organisation collaborate with a NFP / private organisation to deliver a positive social outcome? How did you collaborate and what did you achieve together?

Prior to COVID-19, Hall & Wilcox collaborated with various NFPs to deliver positive social outcomes through our Pro Bono & Community practice, such as Justice Connect, Refugee Legal, the Fitzroy Legal Service, and the Australian Business and Community Network, to name a few.

One organisation that we are immensely proud to partner with is the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS). Based in Preston, VALS was established in 1973 to address the over-representation of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system. VALS plays an important role in providing referrals, advice/information, duty work or case work assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Victoria.

Our partnership with VALS is facilitated by supplying junior lawyers on secondment to support their Infringement Clinic, which provides legal advice and representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have accrued a significant number of fines (usually over $5,000) and are suffering from one of four “special circumstances”, homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness or family violence, at the time when they incurred the fines. The clinic also provides ad hoc legal advice to clients who need assistance navigating the complex infringements process in Victoria and representation to clients in exceptional circumstances.

The Infringement Clinic is supervised by VALS lawyers but is otherwise run entirely by volunteers. Not only is this a brilliant experience for our junior lawyers, the ongoing supply of junior lawyers is fundamental for the continuation of the volunteer-run practice.

The success of this partnership is in line with Committee for Melbourne’s Guiding Principles for NFP & Private Sector Collaboration.

  • Common purpose –VALS’ founding and ongoing purpose is: (a) to address the over-representation of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system; and (b) provide access to justice in civil and family law. This is consistent with the Committee’s stated purpose of enabling our communities to thrive. Additionally, the experience and sense of purpose our people draw from working with VALS is consistent with our purpose of enabling our people to thrive.
  • Complete understanding – we have a mutual understanding that where the firm has capacity, we will endeavour to ‘second’ one of our junior lawyers to VALS during their pro bono rotation. The arrangement is then recorded in a secondment agreement.
  • Proportional sharing – we share a symbiotic relationship whereby we supply the legal expertise and VALS provides the supervision. The clinic arrangement would be unable to function without this proportional sharing of resources and obligations.
  • Strong governance – clear parameters for the work that the secondee will engage in is set by the secondment agreement. The Infringement Clinic then provides further governance through the clinic manual and ongoing supervision.
  • Performance measurement – VALS records the impact of the Infringement Clinic on an ongoing basis using data from its internal case management system and case summaries provided by the volunteers or supervisors on matters. Hall & Wilcox and VALS collaborate to review each secondee’s performance to ensure that the common purpose is being achieved.

3/ Have you and your partner organisation increased collaborative efforts in the wake of COVID-19? What measures have you taken? Please describe.

During COVID-19, the Infringements Clinic faced several challenges.

Due to the public health directions implemented throughout Victoria to restrict movement and reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19, a new category of infringements was introduced for breaches of those directions. Unfortunately, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionately fined for breaches of COVID-19 restrictions. While these fines do not typically fall within the usual scope of the Infringement Clinic, due to their exceptional nature, the significant financial value of the fines, and the disproportionate targeting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, VALS decided to extend the Infringement Clinic’s scope to include COVID-19 infringements.

But while the COVID-19 crisis resulted in a significant increase in demand for the Infringements Clinic, the requirement for Victorians to work from home (WFH) prevented most volunteers from assisting in the clinic. Law students who usually supplement the clinic were no longer able to continue volunteering due to the challenges faced with organising WFH arrangements. Consequently, while the clinic saw an increase in the volume of referrals and direct approaches, the capacity of the clinic was significantly diminished to the point where our secondee was the only volunteer managing the clinic.

Our partnership during the COVID-19 period has been essential for allowing the Infringement Clinic to continue. As we have the capability to finance and organise WFH arrangements, the junior lawyers have been able to continue their secondments with VALS. Without the secondments, the Infringements Clinic may have been forced to close, to devastating effect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in Victoria who rely on the clinic to ensure they are fairly treated and can navigate the complex infringement process.

In short, our partnership allowed us to address a serious access to justice issue during a time where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been particularly vulnerable and have been disproportionately issued infringements.

4/ Why will Melbourne be a better city if more NFP and private organisations collaborate in the post-pandemic period?

The case study of our partnership with VALS is a great example of why it is essential that NFP and private organisations collaborate to ensure the continuity of the vital services NFPs provide. While NFPs rely heavily on private organisations to resource and support their social mission, in many cases private organisations rely on NFPs to provide a vessel to achieve social purpose. Private organisations should collaborate with NFPs to expose their people to new learning experiences and to engage with the organisation’s wider community. As we emerge from lockdown, the NFP sector will need support from private organisations to service the variety of social issues that are ongoing and have been exacerbated by lockdown. Now is an ideal moment to form partnerships between NFPs and private organisations and support Melbourne’s recovery.

Nathan Kennedy, Partner, Hall & Wilcox

Alex Walters, Principal Managing Lawyer, Civil and Human Rights, VALS

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