Interview #8: Carolyn Jones

13 February 2023

Interview #8 – Carolyn Jones

Carolyn Jones is the Principal Solicitor (Harm Practice) at Youth Law Australia, a national community legal centre providing free, specialised, technology-based legal services to children and young people under 25 years. Carolyn has worked and volunteered in CLCs for over 20 years, including 14 years at Women’s Legal Service NSW. Her legal practice has largely focused on sexual, family and domestic violence, family law, child protection and human rights, with expertise in trauma informed legal practice and the experiences of criminalised women including those in custody. Carolyn has also worked as a social worker providing protective, therapeutic and mediation services to vulnerable children and families in rural and remote areas of northern NSW. Carolyn received the Women Lawyers Association of NSW Community Lawyer of the Year award in 2015.

Carolyn spoke about her experience of growing up in regional Australia, how she moved from social work into law, and what it means to embed a trauma informed practice into her work. 

 

 

Kate Adnams, Brisbane Youth Service

KAYLEE: How did you first become involved in social justice work?

CAROLYN: I grew up in a small country town in the seventies and eighties. In smaller communities, injustice is really visible. You often know the families where there’s domestic violence, or when someone at school has been sexually assaulted. The area I grew up in also had a large First Nations community, and there was very clear racism. Country kids often see everything.

At the time, there was also a lot of gender injustice, and I was an angry young woman. I’ve always had a focus particularly on gender and sex, and sexuality justice. I also had a big interest in animal rights and became a vegetarian quite young.

I have community-minded parents who did a lot of community work and volunteering. They really encouraged us to think about how we wanted our community to reflect the world we wanted to live in. Then, when I finished high school, I studied social work at university. Social work is an amazing way to start your education. It encourages you to engage with your own values and belief systems, and to think about the impact that you have on other people.

KAYLEE: What drew you to work with Youth Law Australia?

CAROLYN: It was in part because of my own experience as a young person who was frustrated by adults saying things like, “no, because I say so”, and then not bothering to explain their reasoning. I was pushy about wanting to be included. I kept thinking “what, just because you’re a little bit older, you get to do things and make decisions that affect me, even though I’m clearly capable of participating in that decision making process”. I don’t want to perpetuate a world where young people feel they’re not included, or they don’t have a meaningful opportunity to participate in decisions about them.

Once I finished my social work degree, I worked with children and young people for about seven years. This included working in rural and remote communities with lots of young kids that were in out of home care or coming into contact with police and youth justice. The majority had also experienced physical and sexual harm and neglect.

I then studied law at UNSW, and worked and volunteered at Youth Law Australia for a couple of years, and also completed my practical legal training with them.

Then I went off to do other things, primarily in family law, child protection and women’s safety. Now I have come back to YLA to lead an awesome new practice focused on facilitating opportunities for young people to speak up about experiences of harm, particularly family violence, sexual violence, bullying and online harm. We are using technology to facilitate young people’s access to justice. Obviously kids are online, so we’ve got to go to where the kids are. I like that approach.

Kate with youth workers from the Brisbane Youth Service

Women’s Legal Service NSW at International Women’s Day Rally (Helen Campbell, Carolyn Jones, Liz Snell and Janet Loughman)

KAYLEE: What does a typical day at work look like for you?

CAROLYN: It’s a bit of a mix. Every day, in my role as a principal solicitor, I look at the new matters that come in. Young people can contact us by phone, email, through a webform, or through our live chat service. Kids and their supporters can come and chat to us online about problems, particularly with a maltreatment focus.

The goal is to help young people to seek early legal information and advice to prevent things from getting out of hand. It can be anonymous so they don’t have to tell us who they are, their age, or any other identifying details. We get a lot of questions about age of consent, sexting, swapping nudes and getting in trouble for that. More and more young people are also disclosing that they have had victim-survivor experiences of family violence or sexual violence, or are worried that they may have physically or sexually harmed someone or shared images without consent.

Affirmative consent laws are causing a lot of anxiety for young people. They aren’t really sure if they’ve done everything they should be doing to check consent, and to continue to check consent, throughout their sexual contact with another person.

The work also involves stakeholder engagement, law reform, strategic litigation, and community education.

I am also mindful of supporting young lawyers in the team who are around the same age as many of our clients, and may be experiencing similar issues themselves in their personal lives. We see great insights and energy from our young lawyers, but they’re also potentially at a higher degree of risk because they are working with their peer group.

KAYLEE: What are some of the challenges that you faced in your career?

CAROLYN: The obvious one is gender and sexuality discrimination. When I was working as a social worker, I was working alongside police and youth justice staff who were mostly men. They had a law and order approach that kids needed to be arrested and punished. There was no real sense of, “Let’s step back and look at their circumstances, and look at how the system they have been raised in has impacted them.” I was often belittled, excluded or called a “bleeding-heart feminist”. You probably wouldn’t get away with that so much now. I feel like there’s been a shift. 

Since most of my career has been in the not-for-profit space, the lack of long-term funding has always been a challenge. I’ve worked on some excellent peer-reviewed, evidence-based programs, only for them not to have their funding renewed due to changes in government. In saying that, there are amazing people in all sectors doing great work. But we really need long term funding commitments.

A more recent challenge has been getting people to understand the need to embed a genuine trauma informed practice and address vicarious trauma in the legal sector. Right from the get-go, we need to be funded to meaningfully set up the work so that people are well paid, have job security, don’t have to work more hours than they should, and aren’t being exposed to ridiculous amounts of traumatic material and situations, which is a real risk in CLCs. We need to ensure that our staff can practice safely and stay well. Everybody’s experience of risk is different. We need to take the time to know everybody in our team, understand their potential triggers and thresholds, and learn how to manage that.

 

Kate with youth workers from the Brisbane Youth Service

First Nations Women’s Legal Program, Women’s Legal Service NSW (Gail Thorne, Dixie Link-Gordon, Yasmine Khan and Carolyn Jones) giving evidence at the Inquiry into the High Level of First Nations People in Custody and Oversight and Review of Deaths in Custody

This extends to me as well. You can’t do this work for as long as I have and not be affected by vicarious trauma. The supportive practices that I had in place as a social worker are very different to the practices that are in typically in place as a lawyer. So I’m trying to bring the best of social work into legal practice.

KAYLEE: What advice do you have for young professionals wanting to be involved in community legal centres and pro bono work?

Well just do it, really!

I’ve worked for the government, I’ve worked in private legal practice, and I love working for community legal centres. It’s not just a stepping-stone or something to pad out your CV. It can be a career.

I appreciate that it’s generally not as well paid as the other sectors, but CLC’s have great flexibility and amazing opportunities that you mostly can’t access in other sectors. I think that’s certainly why my heart is very much in the CLCs space. They provide the opportunity to be constructively critical of the systems around you, and then advocate to do something about it.

I have also observed more CLCs getting involved in strategic litigation. Most CLCs are not well-resourced and can’t be in court all the time so it is exciting to see a broader range of CLCs identifying public interest cases. It adds extra meaning to individual advocacy to reflect on opportunities to be strategic in your casework and to try and change the way that people think about something, or change an unjust law.

CLC’s are very open and inclusive and encourage everybody in the team to think about what we should be doing and where there are gaps. They’re very innovative and thinking all the time about “what does real access to justice look like?” Think about what motivates you, what your passion might be – you can usually find a CLC that’s working on that. And if not, get into a CLC and push for it because everybody’s voices matter in CLCs.

KAYLEE: What opportunities are there to become involved with Youth Law Australia?

We have a whole range of different options. You can do PLT with us or law students at UNSW can do a 10 week social justice internship placement. We also have students that volunteer with us from any law campus, as well as retired lawyers. There’s an application process on our website.

People can certainly come to us earlier, and then potentially there’s opportunities to be involved with other things. We also have about a hundred and fifty cyber volunteers, who are private lawyers or work for the Australian Government Solicitor. If you end up in a legal career outside the CLC sector and you want to work with us, we would love to hear from you.

To find out more about Youth Law Australia, visit their website or email them at admin@yla.org.au.

Interview #7: Kate Adnams

1 February 2023

Interview #7 – Kate Adnams

Kate Adnams is a lawyer in LawRight’s Community and Health Justice Partnerships, which provides pro bono legal assistance to people who receive social support from partnering community organisations. Kate supervises legal assistance provided to children, young people and women who are or have experienced homelessness, sexual violence, and other vulnerabilities. She holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and Bachelor of Creative Industries from Queensland University of Technology, and is also currently completing her Master of Laws at the University of Melbourne.

Kate spoke to Kaylee Neil about what volunteering taught her that law school didn’t, why she loves working with young people and what it means to draw boundaries at work.

 

 

Kate Adnams, Brisbane Youth Service

KAYLEE: How did you first get involved in social justice work? 

KATE: I started volunteering as a university student here in Brisbane at a Community Legal Centre called Caxton Legal Centre. I was at that point in my law degree where I was thinking about next steps and find some experience. There are no lawyers in my family, and I had no idea how to start a legal career. A lot of the guidance we received at university was to go into a clerkship and work in private practice, but I never really wanted to do that, as I was not particularly interested in corporate law subjects at university. Volunteering at Caxton was an excellent experience for me because it meant that I learned the breadth of what community legal centres can do. I also grew up volunteering at different services, doing things like surf lifesaving, and my parents really instilled and ethos that if you have a skill, you should use it to help people. By whatever happened in my life, my skill was in law. There are more interesting talents out there, but that’s the one that I got!

KAYLEE: What drew you to work with the Brisbane Youth Service? 

KATE: When I first joined LawRight I worked in employment. I was talking to young women saying they were being sexually assaulted by their managers at work and were expected to put up with it. It was upsetting that young people don’t realise they are entitled to be treated with respect. That’s something that everyone deserves, whether they work in hospitality, or retail, or as lawyers, or doctors, unemployed or whatever their life circumstances may be.

When I first started working at the Brisbane Youth Service, I was 23 and had just got my practising certificate. One of my first clients was not only born three days before me but was also born in the same hospital. 

It was such a confronting experience to meet your peers and think, “Through some turn of fate, you and I are sitting across the table from each other. I’m your solicitor and you are experiencing homelessness and need some help.”

KAYLEE: I would really like to hear more about the Brisbane Youth Service.

KATE: Our partnership with the Brisbane Youth Service has been run by LawRight since 2008. It’s part of what used to be called the Homeless Persons Legal Clinic. We changed the name because many of our clients don’t identify as experiencing homelessness and have a range of vulnerabilities they need assistance with. We are a small group of solicitors – there’s about five of us – and we provide outreach to services in Brisbane one day a week. Then through the support of national pro bono firms, we continue to assist with casework.

The Brisbane Youth Service is run through partnerships with LawRight, Holding Redlich and King & Wood Mallesons. It’s excellent because with the support of the firms in private practice, we can see significantly more clients. I worked on 213 matters last year – but it only seems impressive because we had a lot of solicitors in private practice providing such immense pro bono support to our service.

KAYLEE: What does a typical day of work look like for you?

KATE: I love that it’s really varied. On a Monday, I’m at the Brisbane Youth Service where I first sit upstairs with the youth workers answering some of their questions. Then there may be a couple of young people who’ve arrived in crisis. I’ll go down and have a quick chat with them and explain what we can assist with.

In the afternoon we have very structured appointments. From around 1pm to 4pm we’ll have a solicitor from one of the private firms sit with me, and we’ll do back-to-back appointments. When they go back to their firm, they take on the carriage of the file and work with the client until the matters are resolved.

Kate with youth workers from the Brisbane Youth Service

Kate and the Brisbane Youth Service youth workers

We also do a lot of other work that isn’t casework. Last week I was training doctors at BYS medical clinic on how to support young people who have experienced domestic violence. Or sometimes we assist other organisations that have clients within our cohort. For example, last week I was also at Helena Jones Correctional Centre, which is a low security women’s prison. I spoke to women there about their rights, support they can get if they have experienced violence, and how to access victims’ assistance or redress.

We have a wide network of solicitors in private practice who volunteer their time to provide legal advice to our clients.  We could not reach as many women as we do without their support.

I would love to see more family law firms get involved in pro bono work and in particular, taking direct client referrals for our most vulnerable clients.  There are still many clients who need more complex legal advice or representation that are not entitled to a grant of aid and who have no capacity to pay a private lawyer.

KAYLEE: It sounds like very fulfilling work.

KATE: Young people are a wonderful cohort to work with. You have the opportunity to meet with someone who is 17, 18, 19, and they might be in crisis and not realise they are entitled to support. The work we do can be really transformative. I have a client who just finished her teaching degree and is going off to start her first full time job. I also currently have a client who just commenced his law degree. There is a lot of hope working with young people.

KAYLEE: What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your career?

KATE: As wonderful as it is to work with this group, it’s sometimes just heartbreaking. It can become really difficult to continue to work with people when you realise you’re just a small drop in the ocean of their lives. For example, I might meet someone and work with them for six months. But in the grand scheme of things, the stuff that I’m doing might not be that important because they’ve just experienced so much hardship, like sexual violence or child abuse. So, another big challenge is dealing with vicarious trauma. It’s an ongoing challenge for me. 

Then the other thing – and this was particularly difficult during COVID – is to draw boundaries as their solicitor. As a solicitor, I give advice and options to my clients, support them, advocate for them and represent them in matters as required. But at the end of the day, my client might make decisions that I don’t necessarily agree with. It’s not for me to not take that as a personal failing. Sometimes you will tell a client “This is what I think is the best option”, and they might say, “I just don’t want to do that.” And that’s okay, too.

KAYLEE: What support networks have you been able to rely on in that time?

KATE: LawRight is really excellent with providing us support. Because we are working with a cohort of people who are experiencing extreme vulnerability, all the solicitors are very supportive, especially our seniors. If I need to go see a solicitor and tell them I’ve had a rough appointment, they are always understanding of those challenges. We are also fortunate at LawRight to have other supports in place, like group sessions where an external psychologist comes to our office and we get the opportunity to speak about issues that we are finding confronting.  

I also think it’s important to draw strong boundaries between my home life and work life. Which means keeping my hours reasonable and making sure I give myself time to do things I enjoy outside of my work.  This is so important when working with high caseloads and matters that can be distressing. At the end of the day, making sure you are looking after yourself enables you to be a better solicitor.

Queensland Legal Walk, a fundraiser for LawRight – Alexandria, Stephen Grace (Managing Lawyer of the CHJP) and Kate Adnams in Cairns

Queensland Legal Walk, a fundraiser for LawRight – Alexandria, Stephen Grace (Managing Lawyer of the CHJP) and Kate Adnams in Cairns

KAYLEE: What advice do you have for young professionals wanting to be involved in community legal centres and pro bono work? 

KATE: When I was at university, so many of my mates – and I did it myself – who were so hung up about their GPAs. I think at law school we sometimes forget that when you’re sitting down face to face with a young person who is homeless and telling you about their years of childhood abuse, it doesn’t matter that you got a seven in your university subjects. What matters is whether you can speak to that person, make them feel comfortable, safe and explain to them what their options in a way that’s appropriate to that person’s experience and circumstances. This is the hardest skill to learn as a lawyer and in my opinion, one of the most important skills that lawyers should have.

There are so many things that you can pick up from volunteering at community law centres, that you sadly never see in law school. At community legal centres, you often get the opportunity to sit in with more senior lawyers and watch how they run appointments or have the opportunity to do some client work and see how people respond to matters. 

I always say to law students that if we’re looking to take on a new volunteer, I am more interested in the students who have worked in retail or hospitality, or volunteered in their community, or played sports or things like that. That shows that they are happy and excited to work with people, because that’s what the law is, at the end of the day.

If you have the opportunity or means to volunteer at a community legal centre, you should. Look into the opportunities your university provides, for example the UQ Pro Bono Centre. Volunteering is a great opportunity to see what you might be interested in, rather than waiting until you’re in your first grad job. It was through being a student volunteer at Caxton that I got into my current role. There are so many community legal centres in Queensland – you can go on the CLCQ website and find the one that’s closest to you and just send them an email offering to volunteer.

If you’re already practicing in private practice, speak to your pro bono team in the firm to find what opportunities are available. Working in pro bono and the community legal sector is a lot of saying “yes” to put your hand up and make yourself available. I don’t think I would have got to where I am now if my attitude wasn’t, “Yeah, I’ll do that. I’ll give it a go. Let’s see how we can do it.” Back yourself and have that little bit of confidence to put yourself out there. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.  

Interview #6: Genevieve Howe

30 January 2023

Interview #6 – Genevieve Howe

Genevieve is a solicitor at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS). Genevieve co-runs the RACS Women at Risk project – which focuses on assisting people seeking asylum who identify as women and who have experienced or fear they will experience gender-based or domestic and family violence. She also provides legal assistance at the community outreach clinics in Auburn and Parramatta, and assists in RACS’ new project dedicated to helping clients who are seeking asylum due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

Genevieve joined RACS in 2019 after working in Nauru, where she represented people seeking asylum at the Nauru Refugee Status Review Tribunal.

Genevieve spoke to Kaylee Neil about being a student volunteer at RACS and coming back as a solicitor, why she fell in love with the organisation, and how no two days are the ever the same.

Austin Irwin

KAYLEE: Could you tell me about the Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS) and the services you provide?

GEN:  RACS is a small Community Legal Centre (CLC) based in Randwick NSW. We provide legal assistance and legal advice to refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia. Our clients are people who have come to Australia fearing serious harm or persecution if they were to return to their home country. We assist them through the process of applying for a protection visa and the many steps involved in that process. For some clients, we provide ongoing representation through the process and for others just advice along the way.

 

KAYLEE: How did you come to work with RACS?

GEN:   I always knew I wanted to work in the humanitarian space. After studying law at university, that passion channelled more specifically into refugee law. During my last year of university, I started volunteering at RACS one day a week. After a little bit of time here as a volunteer, I just fell in love with the work here, and in love with the people.

While staffing changes, there’s always going to be a group of very dedicated and passionate people working at RACS – it just attracts people like that. I left RACS once I got my first job after university, but came back here as a solicitor in September 2019. It’s been great to be back. I always knew I wanted to make my way back here.

KAYLEE: Why did you leave RACS and how did you come back?

GEN: It was hard – I didn’t want to leave RACS. I wanted to volunteer forever if I could! But I knew I had to take a job opportunity that I had after university. Whenever roles would come up at RACS, or hearing from old colleagues that they were looking to fill more roles, I would always keep my ear to the ground and apply for those opportunities when they came up. September 2019 was the right place and right time for me to come back to RACS.

KAYLEE: What does a typical day of work look like for you?

GEN: It’s very varied, you won’t be doing the same thing any one day at RACS, which is part of what I love – the variety of the work, the variety of the clients you assist, and the variety of the problems that they present to you. You’ll be helping a different client with a different problem every single day. A lot of it is being on the phone to clients. It might be a new client who has never called RACS before, and they need general information about protection visas and what options are open to them. Or it might be chatting with one of your longer-term clients, who you have ongoing case work for and you need to draft legal submissions for their case. You might be helping a client draft their protection visa statement, which is outlining their fears of harm if they had to go back, and helping them prepare documents that can be provided as evidence to support their claims to the Department of Home Affairs. Or you might be the lawyer to represent a client for their department interview.

KAYLEE: What are some of the challenges you have encountered working at RACS? 

GEN: I think one of the biggest ones is the lengthy delays as part of the visa application process. Some clients have been waiting years to have their application assessed by the department, or years waiting for an interview with the department to just have their story heard and have their case assessed. It’s quite hard to feel helpless in that regard, in not being able to speed up the system. Supporting your clients in that limbo period of waiting for the outcome is quite a big challenge.

 

KAYLEE: What do you enjoy about working at RACS? 

GEN: What I love about it is that we’re quite open and collaborative with our work. It’s open to you to take on specific work if you have the capacity. We have team meetings every week, during which we’ll all bring up the new cases that have come up for us. There’s a role called ‘trouble-shooter’, which is when you’re on the main phone lines helping the volunteers each day. A lot of work that comes through trouble-shooter will be new clients, so we bring that new work to the meeting, and we’ll say, “this new client has come up, who has the capacity to take them on and help them with their matter?”

 

KAYLEE: What advice do you have for young professionals wanting to be involved in community legal centres and pro bono work? 

GEN: Probably a lot of people say this – volunteer. I’d say volunteer at a variety of places, if you know you want to be in that general CLC space, but you’re not sure which area of law. You meet great people, you get a taste for the work, and see how it works on the ground. If you’re interested in staying on at that organisation, it really helps to show that you have a knowledge of their systems and the work that they do.

Interested in volunteering with RACS?

Interview #5: Sandy Cho, Ian Ahn & John Song

16 January 2023

Interview #5 – Sandy Cho, Ian Ahn & John Song

The Korean Community Legal Service provides free legal advice to members of the Korean and Korean-Australian community who are unable to easily access legal services.

Three volunteer solicitors from KCLS – Sandy Cho, Ian Ahn and John Song – spoke to Olivia Roney about considering the cultural context of their clients , how growing up in a migrant family has influenced their volunteering choices, and why they volunteer in addition to their day to day practice.

From left to right: Sandy Cho, Ian Ahn, John Song

OLIVIA: Could you tell me a bit about the Korean Community Legal Service and the services that you provide?

SANDY: The Korean Community Legal Centre (KCLS) was first established in May 2011 by our co-founders, Ken Hong, Christina Choi, and Chris Yoo. They realised the need for a more accessible legal service for the Korean and Korean-Australian community. Barriers they identified included limited information about free legal services, language barriers, cost of private legal services, and cultural differences.

The primary focus of KCLS is to provide free legal advice to members of the Korean and Korean-Australian community who are unable to gain access to private legal services. We conduct once a month in-person and telephone-based advice services to clients – not only in Sydney, but also interstate. Our services are provided with the support of the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea. Our service areas include disputes, immigration, employment law (for example, issues with unpaid wages), and some minor criminal matters. We service around eighty to one hundred clients per year, with a slight decline last year due to Covid.

OLIVIA: You mentioned cultural differences being a big barrier to people accessing legal services. What are some of those challenges when you’re assisting clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and how do you address them?

IAN: KCLS is a Korean-oriented organisation. All our current volunteer lawyers speak Korean, at least conversationally. Many of our clients are Korean nationals, or have Korean background. In turn, we are often required to consider the cultural context of factual circumstances and I often find this isn’t always easy.

It is well known that any formal proceeding can get expensive very quickly, yet very time consuming to see it going anywhere, so if possible, we encourage our clients to engage in ADR to save cost, time, stress, and indeed their effort.

But when it comes to negotiation, we usually find that culture and human elements play a significant role. For example, if there is a dispute between two Korean people, factors like age can be an important consideration for us, in thinking about how to best encourage the other party to come forward for a settlement talk. In contrast, if say a client of ours is having difficulty communicating with the other party because of language barrier, difficulty arising out of cultural differences, or at times both – then a common consideration for us would become how our client’s position can be best articulated. It is about seeing that broader context of what our clients are going through and understanding exactly where their frustration is coming from. I’d say that is one of the biggest challenges.

OLIVIA: John, how did you start volunteering with KCLS?

JOHN: Given that I have a legal background and quite involved in the Korean community generally, it made sense to be part of the Korean Community Legal Centre. At first, I had this huge confidence issue of whether I could capably advise or consult someone in Korean. And it’s been going okay – I’m still surviving, I’m still doing it!

 

The work means a lot to me. My family and I immigrated here nearly thirty years ago. We’ve been in various situations where something was wrong and legal support wasn’t there. Like most migrant families, those situations were quite common. There’s a world out there that doesn’t really connect with your own, especially if you can’t speak the language of the people that are supposed to help you. So, it means something to me to be able to stand in that gap.

OLIVIA: What have been some key learnings for you?

JOHN: Well firstly the technical skills—before each consultation we touch base with the supervising lawyer to check that our advice is accurate. There’s a learning curve in that respect because the matters that I consult on through KCLS are quite different to my usual practice.

But more than that, I think it’s also a reminder of the day-to-day difficulties of someone adjusting to a foreign land, which are things I had forgotten about. Just staying connected with that common struggle is something that I learn and gain from more than the technical skills.

OLIVIA: Sandy, what led you to volunteer with KCLS?

SANDY: I started when I was a student volunteer at university. At the time, I was already volunteering at the Redfern Legal Centre, and working there made me realise the gaps in the system –  If many people in the Australian community are finding it difficult to obtain proper legal advice and find a service that can give them that advice, what would it be like for members of the Korean and Korean-Australian community who may not speak English? I started to wonder about what sort of difficulties they would be facing. So, I reached out to my fellow Korean-Australian colleagues at university and one of them informed me about KCLS. I reached out, joined as a student volunteer, and I’ve been continuing ever since.

OLIVIA: On that theme, how can students and young practicing lawyers get involved?

SANDY: It’s a very simple process. We normally post advertisements on student Facebook groups and ask for a copy of CV and a brief description of why they want to join the KCLS. This is just to check that their values and understanding of the system aligns with what we want to deliver to clients. Everyone is welcome to apply.

OLIVIA: Ian, what led you to volunteer with KCLS?

IAN: My graduate role was in personal injury law on the plaintiff side where I acted for a number of Korean speaking clients who were injured in one way or another, and I found this quite fulfilling. With that in mind, I started with KCLS and found I relate to many of the problems clients encounter, just coming from a migrant family myself.

OLIVIA: What advice do you have for young lawyers wanting to be involved in community legal centres and pro bono work?

IAN: As part of my law degree, I took an elective where a group of students went on a placement to Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service, a clinic run by the University of Adelaide. I found that very helpful throughout my university days and when I look back now, that’s probably one of those times where I had so much fun and learnt so much. I believe this is quite commonly offered across many unis, so keep an eye out!

SANDY: I practice mainly commercial and corporate law, so there is little sense, if at all, of giving back to the community. For young lawyers and students, I would strongly encourage them to get involved with community legal centres, as it provides a channel where you can give back to the community.

JOHN: In terms of how you can get started, I think start small. Try volunteering once a month. It’s low commitment, and it’s a good break in your day-to-day practice or study. In terms of practical advice—I am also involved with the Marrickville Legal Centre, so depending on where you live, you can just hit up your nearest community legal centre and see if they need help.

Another thing to consider is taking on the challenge. Like I said, before I started volunteering with KCLS, I had some hesitation, thinking, do I have the skills to do this? Not just in terms of my Korean fluency, but also the fact that I am mostly doing civil matters with the KCLS, whereas my day-to-day practice is in criminal law. So backing yourself and having that confidence in knowing that you can still make a valuable practical contribution in someone’s life if you prepare for it. There is a good reward in the efforts that you put in. You just have to start somewhere!

Interested in volunteering with KCLS? Contact the team here.

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Sandy works in commercial & corporate practice at H & H Lawyers, dealing with major Korean Australian companies as well as domestic clients. In her student days, Sandy volunteered as a summer-intensive volunteer at the Redfern Legal Centre (2020) and also as a student volunteer at the at the Korean Community Legal Service (KCLS) since 2019. She now serves at KCLS as the Student Volunteer Coordinator at The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea.

Ian works in the assurance practice at PwC Australia, with a focus on banking regulations. Outside work, he puts his consultant hat aside and assists clients at KCLS as a volunteer solicitor. In 2018, Ian completed a placement at the Adelaide Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service facilitated by the University of Adelaide as part of his law degree. Since then, Ian has been an advocate for the importance of access to justice and continues to play a role to date.

John is a Senior Federal Prosecutor for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. Prior to that he worked as a solicitor for the Aboriginal Legal Service in regional NSW, and in private practice in Sydney. John has been volunteering with the KCLS since 2021 and is also a volunteer lawyer with the Marrickville Legal Centre. Fitness, coffee, and hip hop enthusiast, you might spot him power walking to the Sydney Downing Centre, armed with his coffee and AirPods.

Interview #4: Allison Caputo

8 December 2022

Interview #4 – Allison Caputo

Allison is Practice Director of Client Advice at Women’s Legal Service Queensland. Prior to joining WLSQ, Allison was in private practice as a family lawyer for over 15 years practicing in Sydney, the Gold Coast and Brisbane. Allison is a Queensland Law Society Accredited Specialist in family law and has a Master of Applied Law (Family) from the College of Law. Allison joined the Queensland Law Society as a Councillor in 2019 and continues in this role. As part of her role on QLS Council, she is a member of the Family Law Policy committee and Chair of the Committee of Management.

Allison spoke to Kaylee about what career progression is like in a CLC, the challenges of resuming in-person services post-COVID, and her big decision to leave private practice.  

 

 

KAYLEE: Could you tell me about the Women’s Legal Service Queensland and the services you provide?

ALLISON: I am Practice Director (Client Advice) at Women’s Legal Service Queensland (WLSQ).  I come from a lengthy career in private practice and started at WLSQ earlier this year.

WLSQ has three offices; our primary office is in Annerley and we have offices in Caboolture and on the Gold Coast. Our practice areas are specialised – we focus on family law, domestic violence, and care and protection matters.  We also have a small team working in the Counselling Notes Protect program in the criminal law space. 

Other services at WLSQ include our Domestic Violence Unit, our Health Justice Partnership Team, our Temporary Visa Pilot Program and our Financial Abuse Prevention Unit.

We are fortunate to have a very experienced social work team. If we identify a client as needing particular social support services, we have our own social workers that we can refer our clients to.

WLSQ fundraising team at Women Lawyers Association of Queensland Awards (WLAQ) event

KAYLEE: Why did you decide to work with the Women’s Legal Service?

ALLISON: I worked at the Family Court of Australia for many years at the beginning of my career. I then spent the last 14 years in private practice, both on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, always working in family law. I used to volunteer at Women’s Legal Service once a month on a Wednesday evening, and provide advice to clients.

It was a big decision to leave private practice. I got to a point where I wanted to use my skills and experience to help the more vulnerable clients and women in the community. I felt that I was able to do that better here than in private practice.

The biggest reason was just wanting a change in day-to-day practice. I wanted to use my skills in a way that didn’t cost the client.

In private practice, it was satisfying to act for clients and get them a good result, but it was very expensive to get there. I always felt this part of me that said, “it just shouldn’t cost as much as it does to get access to a result.”

I’m currently in a management role at the WLSQ, so I’m not dealing with clients day-to-day, even though I love it when I get the opportunity to do so.

KAYLEE: What does a typical day of work look like for you?

ALLISON: My days are quite varied.  As Practice Director I am responsible for how my team delivers certain services to clients, so I am involved in recruitment, training and staff movements within the team.  I am ultimately responsible for ensuring that the team meets service delivery obligations under our funding contracts.  That means ensuring that delivery of services is both client focused and efficient.  However being a CLC where staffing resources are our biggest asset and our biggest challenge, I might have to jump on the phone and provide advice to a client if required.  I enjoy being involved in community legal education and as the pro bono coordinator for WLSQ, I am often speaking to stakeholders that want to work with WLSQ to assist us to deliver our services.

KAYLEE: Do you get a lot of interest from law firms around the city about helping out?

ALLISON: We are fortunate to have very strong relationships with our pro bono partners which have been developed over many years.  That support includes event participation and sponsorship, volunteering, grants, raising awareness about domestic and family violence and through the donation of goods. Their support assists us to deliver our services to vulnerable women.  It was through the assistance of our pro bono partners that we were able to launch the Helpline back in 2015.

Allison at Bridge to Brisbane fun run with the WLSQ team and partner from Minter Ellison

We have a wide network of solicitors in private practice who volunteer their time to provide legal advice to our clients.  We could not reach as many women as we do without their support.

I would love to see more family law firms get involved in pro bono work and in particular, taking direct client referrals for our most vulnerable clients.  There are still many clients who need more complex legal advice or representation that are not entitled to a grant of aid and who have no capacity to pay a private lawyer.

KAYLEE: What are some of the challenges facing the Women’s Legal Service Queensland?

ALLISON: One of the challenges for us post-COVID was being back in-person.  Pre-COVID we held a drop-in clinic twice a week where women could turn up at the door, and could obtain legal advice that night with a volunteer lawyer. It’s been a challenge getting our volunteer lawyers to come back in person rather than delivering advice by telephone. We resumed our drop in clinic in October on Monday nights, and aim to build this up once the word gets out.

I think the other challenge that we face at WLSQ, is supporting our staff through the impact of vicarious trauma. The complexity of domestic violence that you’re dealing with at WLSQ is high. You have to be aware that you’re supporting your staff in that space.

Another challenge is ensuring that your professional staff feel they are getting the necessary professional training and challenges they need. The reality of CLCs versus private practice is that you’re not doing as much court work.  So, making sure that there are good professional pathways for lawyers so they want to work here and remain working here as well.  Feeling professionally fulfilled, is the way that I would describe it.

KAYLEE: What is the career progression like in a CLC?

ALLISON: I find that solicitors who are attracted to work at WLSQ are those that really want to help vulnerable clients but may also want to balance work with other responsibilities. It’s a good mix of being able to do client work but without some of the more challenging parts of private practice.  What I have observed is that the skills that you get in certain areas here are still in demand in private practice.

In terms of career progression, we’ve got a lot of people at the paralegal stage. We get a lot of volunteers that are law students. Then we’ve got a gap at that grad or early solicitor role because we require our advice solicitors to be at least 3 years post admission. We do expect a lot from our solicitors in terms of their knowledge, because they could get any question about family law, child protect, child support, property, parenting, when someone rings our Helpline.

There’s an opportunity for senior solicitors here to do more casework and advocacy. We have a few senior solicitors who  have the additional responsibilities of  supervision, recruitment, training of staff.  It depends on where you’re at in your career, but I think there’s a good opportunity to get really skilled, particularly in the DV and family law parenting space here.

KAYLEE: What advice do you have for young professionals wanting to be involved in community legal centres and pro bono work? 

ALLISON: Always look for volunteering opportunities. If you’re studying and want some volunteering experience, we have opportunities in the paralegal space to be involved in duty lawyer work. We send at least two paralegals out to every duty lawyer that we have, and that covers four days a week across three courts.

If you are already a qualified lawyer, we have our volunteer advice team and we always need more. If we do our drop-in clinics twice a week, that requires probably four or five private lawyers to be in here giving advice on each night. So if you’re interested as a qualified lawyer to provide advice to our clients there’s always opportunities, and we will move forward with a hybrid role where you can provide advice by phone or you can come in and volunteer here.

If your firm has a pro bono team, get involved! Firms are always looking for staff to get involved in pro bono work. Particularly in big firms, there are some really awesome opportunities in the pro bono space to get involved. Or if you work in a smaller firm, you could be the champion for pro bono. The benefits are both for staff and for clients. It’s not difficult to measure. I think it always makes people feel good to know they’ve helped someone and it didn’t cost the client any money.