Legal advice clinic reaches million dollar milestone

(L-R) Prof Wendy Lacey, UniSA’s Dean and Head of School: Law;  Matthew Atkinson, Managing Solicitor, UniSA Legal Advice Clinic; Susan Lilley, Northern Community Legal Service Inc; Rachel Spencer, Director: Professional Programs, UniSA School of Law;  Heidi Roche, Supervising Registrar at Elizabeth Magistrates Court; Magistrate David McLeod, Elizabeth Magistrates Court; Rocky Perrotta, President, The Law Society of South Australia and Betty Kontoleon, solicitor, UniSA Legal Advice Clinic. BUSINESS AND LAW
(L-R) Prof Wendy Lacey, UniSA’s Dean and Head of School: Law; Matthew Atkinson, Managing Solicitor, UniSA Legal Advice Clinic; Susan Lilley, Northern Community Legal Service Inc; Rachel Spencer, Director: Professional Programs, UniSA School of Law; Heidi Roche, Supervising Registrar at Elizabeth Magistrates Court; Magistrate David McLeod, Elizabeth Magistrates Court; Rocky Perrotta, President, The Law Society of South Australia and Betty Kontoleon, solicitor, UniSA Legal Advice Clinic.

The South Australian community has benefited from more than one million dollars’ worth of pro bono legal work undertaken by the UniSA Legal Advice Clinic, which is run by UniSA students and supported by University staff.

The significant milestone coincides with the opening of the Legal Advice Clinic’s new outreach service at the Elizabeth Magistrates Court, which started operating at the end of last year and was officially launched this month.

Rachel Spencer, Director of Professional Programs in the School of Law, says it has been an exciting few months for the Legal Advice Clinic, which first opened its doors in 2011 at City West campus.

“The clinic is a valuable service because there is a huge unmet need for legal services in our community. The average person cannot afford a lawyer and very few people are eligible for legal aid, which is only available in very limited circumstances,” Spencer says.

“To know the Legal Advice Clinic has delivered more than one million dollars of legal work to the community – and often to the most vulnerable members of society – is extremely satisfying and it’s a credit to the dozens of law students who have undertaken volunteer work during their degrees.

“Access to justice means more than access to lawyers and the legal system. It also means access to information, including information about how to resolve disputes or legal problems – and this is where the UniSA clinic plays a really important role.”

Interdisciplinary in nature, the new Elizabeth outreach service gives clients access to both legal advice from the Legal Advice Clinic, and financial advice provided by the Northern Community Legal Service.

Spencer says the Elizabeth Magistrates Court sees an exceptionally high number of consumer debt-related cases and providing the right mechanisms to support people in debt has a positive impact on the wider community.

“Debt-related issues affect entire families – often people who have serious debts may get ‘lost’ in the legal system and borrow more money to resolve debt issues, which further exacerbates their problems,” she says.

“The clinic links those who have financial difficulties with a financial counsellor so they can find a way out of the debt spiral – a better result for individuals, families and the community. It can have a really positive effect on families who might otherwise suffer from extreme financial hardships.”

UniSA student Suzana Jovanovic, who is studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce double degree, has been instrumental in setting up the Elizabeth Magistrates Court outreach service. Growing up in the northern suburbs, the final year student says she has always been aware of the challenges families in low socioeconomic status (SES) areas face.

“Growing up in an area with low SES, I have developed a strong desire to help those who are in need. Volunteering at the Elizabeth outreach service has provided me with an opportunity to give back to a community that has made me who I am today,” Suzana says.

“It is no secret that the northern suburbs of Adelaide are associated with having a low SES. In fact there is a disproportionately higher unemployment rate in comparison to many other suburbs in South Australia.

“This makes it all the more important to provide the local community with a facility like the outreach service. It’s particularly crucial in circumstances where legal aid is unavailable; in which case our services can provide members of the public with free legal advice, free financial advice and most importantly, access to justice.”

Suzana says the opportunity to work in a real life environment at the Legal Advice Clinic has been one of the highlights of her degree.

“The clinic is not only a valuable community service but it’s also one that provides invaluable experience to law students,” she says.

“Students develop practical legal skills by interviewing clients, writing up various legal documents and working collaboratively, not only with the supervising solicitors, but with other students as well.

“Through the process, I have developed a greater understanding and appreciation of the legal ethics which I am bound by, and among other things, I get to see firsthand how the law affects the lives of real people.”

For more information on the UniSA Legal Advice Clinic, go to the clinic’s website.

top^