OVER six months, the Leederville Employment Law Centre received 10,000 calls from people worried about their rights at work. It could only handle 2000, and deep funding cuts from the federal and state governments means it’ll be even harder this year.”
Young gun city lawyer Nicholas van Hattem reckons he has a solution to the crisis: free labour from law graduates.
Mr van Hatten, who founded the Piddington Society as “a fun alternative to the Law Society” says graduates are crying out for placements to complete their practical legal training and legal community centres provide the ideal environment for them to cut their teeth.
Placement opportunities elsewhere are shrinking (next year legal aid isn’t taking any graduates). Mr van Hattem’s Piddington Justice Project will place graduates with community law centres instead.
While graduates do a lot of muscle work for nix, it’s not entirely cost-free for the centres: graduates need to be formally supervised and that takes staff away from other work.
To help cover placement costs Mr van Hattem’s asking Perth’s well-heeled lawyers to put their hands in their silk-lined pockets. In return he’s offering cheaper ongoing professional development (a requirement for practising certificates).
“There are definitely unmet legal needs,” Leederville centre manager Sara Kane says, adding graduates would be warmly welcomed.
Her funding’s gone down from $440,000 a year to a one-off grant that’s less than one-third of that.
She notes that for every dollar a government invests in a community legal centre, $18 is given back to the economy.
ELC research shows the social impacts of unfairly losing a job can have devastating impacts, leading to family breakdowns, depression and poverty. It can take generations to recover. Centres can also divert cases away from clogging up the courts.
“Taking away from community law centres when we’re at the coalface of preventative work is going to cost us long-term,” Ms Kane says.
“If there’s an economic argument they’re looking for, it is cheaper long-term to fund us to do that prevention work.”
Mr van Hattem is formally launching his plan at Government House Ballroom June 19. Information at http://www.pjp.org.au
by DAVID BELL