A fair and just go for all
18 November 2019 at 8:25 am
Nicky Friedman is not your average lawyer. As the director of community engagement and the head of pro bono law at global law firm Allens, she’s using her expertise and passion for social equality to give disadvantaged people the same access to justice as anyone else. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
From an early age, Friedman was made aware of the social inequality that exists within society. It’s a learning that has gone onto shape her entire career.
As a lawyer with a background in social policy, philanthropy, sustainability, reconciliation, and women’s rights, she’s leveraging the resources of the private legal world to give disadvantaged people the same access to justice as everyone else.
In her eyes, there is no reason why a woman forced into homelessness due to domestic violence should not be awarded the same legal help as an ASX200 company.
On top of her work with Allens, Friedman is the deputy chair of the Victorian Women’s Trust and is currently serving as the interim chair of NFP law group, Justice Connect.
In this week’s Changemaker, she talks about how she became involved in the social change space, challenges, and what she loves about her job.
What first led you to the social change space?
I was brought up to be aware of social inequity and the random chance of birth and circumstance that dictates so much of our opportunity. This awareness drew me to volunteer work as a young adult and when I had my first child and was looking for a project during my family leave, I came across the Victorian Women’s Trust. It was there that I met the organisation’s executive director, Mary Crooks. Mary combines huge intellect with creativity and being close to her was an extraordinary introduction to social justice.
What are some of the challenges you face trying to push for socially responsible initiatives in a corporate environment?
The challenges mirror those in any environment, whether it be the corporate, government, or community sectors. It’s always a question of how do you balance the resources available with the demand? How do you ensure we’re directing our energy where it can achieve the most impact, and how do you ensure we are communicating sufficiently about what we do, to engage our people?
What do you love most about your job?
Being able to deploy the resources of a firm like Allens, with super-smart lawyers, to assist our pro bono clients. To see a team of Allens partners and lawyers dedicate themselves to assisting an asylum seeker, or a young Aboriginal client who has been wrongfully detained, or a woman homeless through family violence, and to know that client is receiving the same quality of assistance as an ASX 200 company, is to see the legal profession at its finest.
What does your day look like?
Many emails, many discussions, in meetings and in my office and on the phone. I alternate between valiant attempts to set priorities and times when I succumb to dealing only with the first item in the inbox.
I lead a wonderful team and together we look after reconciliation, sustainability, and philanthropy, as well as the pro bono practice. There’s always something new and fascinating to consider and alongside that, always some logistical frustration requiring attention. Days are full and mostly very fulfilling.
What are you most proud of in your career?
As head of a pro bono practice, I’m part of a network of Australian and global pro bono professionals, who leverage private law firm resources for those who need access to justice. This is quite an extraordinary phenomenon, unique to the legal profession and I am proud to be part of it.
Right now, I’m also the interim chair of Justice Connect, a social justice organisation focused on closing the justice gap. Justice Connect supports people and organisations with tailored legal help, advocacy, and digital innovation. Having the opportunity to contribute to this work is something I value.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to read, travel and hike.