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How Australia’s first non-profit law firm, New Way Lawyers, is staying busy through the pandemic
21 August 2020

How Australia’s first non-profit law firm, New Way Lawyers, is staying busy through the pandemic

Published on 21 August 2020

True to its title, New Way Lawyers does law differently. The firm operates as a non-profit law firm, and offers an alternative model for providing legal services, as compared with government-funded legal services and private law firms. Managing Lawyer Andrew Morrison spoke to Insights about how firm life has been during COVID-19, particularly as clients experience unusual emotional strain through the emotional and economic uncertainty triggered by the global pandemic.

Helping clients take stock through turbulent times

Andrew’s firm has been unusually busy as of late. As a firm that practises exclusively in Family Law and Wills & Estates, demand for both areas has picked up, particularly in Family Law.

“In terms of Family Law, the increase in workload is no doubt at least partly because the effects of the current pandemic have sadly placed a lot of strain upon relationships, or have exacerbated already existing stressful situations,” said Andrew.

“However, perhaps what has been happening in the world generally has also given some people the opportunity to take stock, reflect on what is important in their lives, and make decisions to improve their own personal circumstances.”

In addition to meeting the needs of many new clients in 2020, Andrew’s team has conducted numerous Court appearances, all over the phone, or via Microsoft Teams to accord with social distancing requirements.

“This level of work has meant that during this period we have been able to keep all our team-members on at their normal hours and salaries, despite all the uncertainty in the world,” said Andrew.

Volunteer client-care to support non-legal issues

The last six months have proved challenging for many, and New Way Lawyers went above and beyond to assist clients not only with legal matters, but also with non-legal issues.

“As a non-profit firm that operates differently from normal law firms, we have a free ‘client-care’ program, to assist our clients with non-legal issues,” explained Andrew. “We have a volunteer client care co-ordinator who assists clients who need extra practical or emotional support”.

“I have no doubt this program has been of great benefit to many of our clients in recent times.”

Maintaining initiatives like these was made possible by the firm adapting early in lockdown. When the pandemic began, the firm had daily team meetings to monitor workflow across its various offices, and ensure appropriate resources were in place to continue to assist their clients.

As the situation stabilised, daily meetings became weekly meetings.

“Like most, if not all firms, we also implemented a process of meeting with clients virtually, conducting client consultations using Microsoft Teams instead of in person at the office,” said Andrew. 

Unique operating model

New Way Lawyers operates with a distinctly different model to other law firms.

As a non-profit law firm, we do not have any partners or shareholders in the organisation,” said Andrew.

For our clients, our non-profit model means that because we do not include any component of profit in our fee structure, our hourly rates are less than those charged by other law firms. However, our focus is not on being the cheapest lawyers; we are committed to offering excellent service at an affordable price.

All of our revenue is applied towards the firm’s operating costs and staff wages,” explained Andrew. “Historically, when we have had any surplus funds available, we have used these to establish a new office and to service clients in a different geographical area.

In 2009, the firm was established by founder and CEO Carolyn Devries in Corinda. Since then, it has expanded to offices in Capalaba, Burleigh and Brisbane City.

I ran the firm’s office at Corinda for approximately 7 years until last year, when we relocated to new premises at Indooroopilly,” said Andrew.

We currently employ eight lawyers, with plans for another two lawyers to join us at the end of August,” said Andrew.

Honing advocacy and technical knowledge through an LLM

Despite being a family lawyer for a number of years before undertaking a the Master of Applied Law (Family Law) at the College of Law, Andrew still found he learned a great deal.

“In particular, subjects dealing with Negotiation/ Mediation and Advocacy, were both very helpful in improving my advocacy skills generally,” said Andrew.

“As a family lawyer, I almost always appear at Interim Hearings, Direction Hearings, Mentions, and other Court appearances leading up to a Trial myself, without instructing a Barrister.”

“These subjects definitely helped me to hone my advocacy skills and helped improve my technical ability to prepare documents like Written Submissions, Case Outlines, and also Position Statements for mediations.”

“Through doing the course I improved my overall knowledge and skill-set as a lawyer, and I can see how doing the Master’s course, would be a great benefit to junior lawyers looking to move into the area of family law.”

Making a real contribution to the lives of clients

Andrew’s commitment to the law comes from his passion for helping people.

“That’s why I really enjoy the challenge of assisting clients to work through a separation, at a time when they are often struggling and in need of great support,” said Andrew.

“I find it rewarding to build relationships with my clients, and to advocate for them as well as I can, to bring about a decent result in each case.”

Andrew has been at New Way Lawyers for almost nine years. In this time, he has mentored a number of junior lawyers and PLT students.

“I have really enjoyed watching them develop into diligent and competent lawyers in their own right, with a heart for helping others,” said Andrew. “For those considering a career in family law or estate law, know that these are areas that give great scope to make a real contribution to clients’ lives.”     

“I would however add that Family Law can be very demanding,” cautioned Andrew. “Because of this, it is very important to have interests and other things to focus on outside of a career. It is also important to remember that while we always try our best, we cannot take on personal responsibility for the poor decisions which clients sometimes make despite good advice.”