Helping the ‘missing middle’ access legal help
12 January 2021 at 5:15 pm
A newly launched not for profit is set to offer free legal support for around 3,000 cases a year
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has led to an increase of employment and tenancy legal issues, but for a growing number of low to moderate income earners in Australia, getting support is difficult.
This “missing middle” is often unable to afford a private lawyer while also being ineligible for means-tested legal aid services.
Helping this cohort is a key aim of Everyday Justice, a national free legal service launched this week by law firm Mills Oakley.
This not for profit – which is awaiting confirmation of its charitable status from the charities commission – will offer advice in areas such as employment law, tenancy, bankruptcy, financial abuse, fines and infringements, human rights, and the environment.
It will be chaired by Mills Oakley partner Luke Geary, who previously founded Australia’s first social enterprise law firm Salvos Legal.
Geary told Pro Bono News he hoped this philanthropic initiative from Mills Oakley will help address the “missing middle” who are being left without legal support.
“This has been a [constant] problem, which isn’t that attractive to governments, because even legal aid and community legal services have had a hard time getting increased funding over the years,” Geary said.
“So it’s incumbent on the private profession to do what they can to not replace the legal aid services, but to support them by delivering to a market where those legal aid services don’t exist.”
Geary noted that many of Everyday Justice’s practice areas have experienced a strong increase in demand since last summer’s bushfires and the onset of the COVID crisis.
He said it was predicted that the NFP will be able to provide help for around 3,000 cases a year.
“Within the Australian legal landscape, we don’t know how many people are actually missing out on accessing legal services as it’s never been able to be measured properly, because often people don’t step forward,” he said.
“So we don’t know precisely the impact this will have on [the issue of] people missing out on the legal system. But it has to be a substantial one by any measure.
“And as this grows, it might prove to be a model that others are interested in adopting.”
Everyday Justice will also offer a pathway for aspiring lawyers to gain practical legal experience, with internships on offer to law graduates and newly qualified lawyers interested in the social justice sector.
The NFP hopes to equip more young lawyers with the practical skills needed to help Australians with everyday legal issues.
Geary said this was an opportunity that many young lawyers would be drawn to.
“There’s always been, in my experience, a huge attractiveness for emerging lawyers to get involved in direct service to people in need,” he said.
“I think this will hopefully develop a new generation of public interest lawyers who get a little bit of professional support from the outset.”
Those interested in getting help from Everyday Justice can do so here.