28 October 2019

Lawyers on mission to provide better access to justice for middle-class Australia

Published on 28 October 2019
Every lawyer knows getting paid can be awkward. No matter how clear your costs agreement, a legal bill is still likely to be a major cost to the average Australian. Indeed, for many Australians, the cost of accessing legal services can be prohibitive. In a practical sense, this has major drawbacks – for example, those trapped in an abusive relationship may avoid seeking the advice they need to leave the relationship. Lacking a clear understanding of one’s legal rights can only be in impediment to making a positive, informed decision.

Insights explores this issue and its key causes, as well as how technology and inventive private sector solutions are working to make it easier for everyday Australians to access justice and better understand their legal rights and obligations.

“Unless you’re a millionaire or a pauper, you can’t afford a lawyer”
Legal aid and community legal centres have experienced major funding cuts in recent years, diminishing their ability to provide access to justice for Australians who may need legal advice the most.

Former Federal Attorney-General George Brandis put it perfectly. “Unless you’re a millionaire or a pauper, the cost of going to court to protect your rights is beyond you,” Brandis told the Australian. The point was affirmed by fellow former Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, “If you are from middle Australia and you want to embark on a substantial piece of litigation, you really have to put your house on the line.”

How did Australia get here? A systemic reliance on public sector initiatives like legal aid, or quasi-public and private sector initiatives like community legal centres, or the National Pro Bono scheme, has a resulted in a patchwork response to providing adequate access to justice for the working Australian.

These initiatives continue to be under-funded. Despite the Law Council of Australia calling for $310 million per year to provide adequate access to justice to Australians at risk, only $20 million was allocated in the Federal 2019 – 2020 budget.“

Additional funding of $20 million, while welcome, does not come close to addressing the minimum $310 million a year shortfall identified by the Law Council, which is required to address decades of chronic underfunding of the legal assistance sector, and includes $200 million recommended by the government’s own Productivity Commission for civil law alone,” said Law Council of Australia President, Arthur Moses SC.

Enter Amicably
Clarissa Rayward, the lawyer behind the Happy Lawyer Happy Life podcast, has decided to make a difference. She co-created Amicably with fellow collaborative lawyer Freya Gardon. and legal designer Sarah Follent.

“Amicably is a private sector initiative designed to help clients navigate relationship breakdowns with fixed price, tech-based solutions,” explained Freya.

Built out of a desire to assist clients across Australia who do not need or can not afford the bespoke services provided by Brisbane Family Law Centre, Amicably was created to provide clients with an alternative approach to resolving the legal matters that flow from their separation.

Having assisted over 2,000 families across 16 years, Clarissa saw a need to provide clients with different options to resolve their family law matters.

“We wanted to give people the choice of high-level bespoke assistance, or lower level interventions for families who want to do most of the work, and need minimal hands on assistance,” said Clarissa.

Amicably provides the option for families to access online tools and resources to enable them to discuss their own resolutions, and online documentation options for once they have reached an agreement.

In an increasingly competitive legal market, there is major incentive to provide legal services at a lower or fixed cost. However, given the existence of this untapped legal market – the average working Australian – creative solutions like Amicably can show there may be new and better ways to open up new legal markets without undercutting existing legal services.