The pro bono, volunteering and fundraising work undertaken by our staff, through the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation, during a challenging year has been outstanding. Our community has stepped up at a time of significant need and uncertainty to assist many individuals, not for profits (NFP) and charities. 

Our community partners are the frontline problem solvers, creative thinkers and regional experts. They can see solutions to the justice gaps and can provide a holistic and trauma-informed response. They have longstanding relations and a strong standing in the communities they serve. While they are well positioned to respond, they are underfunded and stretched in their ability to meet the significant need. 

Now more than ever, the work of the Foundation to assist those in need is clear. Communities are struggling financially and emotionally, and our people are looking for ways to give back and support organisations working at the coalface. Here is an overview of how we responded to 2020's challenges and the work we have done to support our community partners.

Bushfire crisis

As unprecedented fires caused suffering across NSW, Queensland and Victoria at the end of 2019 and start of 2020, the Foundation responded quickly with multi-service consultations with community legal providers and heads of pro bono. 

We brainstormed ways to ensure fire victims received the most appropriate and well-coordinated response and support. The consultations focused on the need for sector-led solutions that prioritised efficiencies and avoided duplication, and straightforward pathways for pro bono referrals were created. 

Coronavirus pandemic

When the response shifted from the bushfires to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foundation continued to focus on broad-scale collaboration with the NFP and community legal sector. 

Disasters expose financial inequalities and generate pockets of newly poor. Those already experiencing destitution are set to suffer further and those who are marginally insecure run a fast line to disadvantage. 

The Foundation responded with new virtual volunteering initiatives to assist people who were socially isolated and older people in need of social connections. We launched volunteering programs with Aurous and 4Voices. Aurous is devoted to reducing the isolation and loneliness of seniors and improving their wellness outcomes and quality of life. 4 Voices is about connecting our people with girls and women who are experiencing, or at risk of experiencing social isolation, domestic violence, homelessness and digital exclusion. Volunteers conducted weekly conversations with these vulnerable people via videoconferencing, providing a connection and support in a time of need.

We also transformed our face-to-face legal clinics to telephone advice clinics so we could continue to assist those in need. We bridged the gap in legal services and provided legal advice to people suffering as a direct result of the pandemic and initiated new legal advice rosters to meet the community's needs. 

Our lawyers also assisted a number of community legal centres struggling with the influx of people needing legal advice due to COVID-19.

We helped Marrickville Legal Centre (MLC) to update their Residential Tenancy Fact Sheets in light of the COVID legislative changes. MLC experienced a sharp increase in tenancy referrals and our assistance helped MLC to meet the increased demand for their legal advice services and to provide community members with up-to-date and easy to understand tenancy information. We also provided MLC with mobile phones to assist their lawyers to remotely stay in contact with clients and provide ongoing legal advice. 

We also provided the Redfern Legal Centre's (RLC) employment team with one of our employment lawyers, Kerry O'Brien, one day per week on secondment. RLC saw a tripling of requests for advice and assistance around employment-related matters and were under-resourced to provide this legal advice. Kerry provided invaluable assistance to RLC to meet this gap in legal services. Read more about Kerry's secondment to the RLC.

Our graduate Brianna Clark also assisted RLC's tenancy service team, who were inundated with calls for assistance.  Brianna assisted the most vulnerable community members who were unable to access the RLC online Legal Assistance Form (due to disability, lack of access to a computer/internet or due to language difficulties). These community members would otherwise have fallen through the gaps. 

Partnership with The Kids' Cancer Project

Earlier this year we partnered with The Kids' Cancer Project (TKCP) to collaborate on one of our focus areas: children. 

TKCP have worked for over 25 years to support innovative science that has the highest chance of clinical success to improve childhood cancer treatments. Their vision is to achieve a one hundred percent survival rate for children who have been diagnosed with cancer and eradicate the harmful impacts treatment can bring.

To help support TKCP's vision and work, the Foundation is providing a range of pro bono legal services, donations, fundraising, employee contributions, in-kind support and professional volunteering. This is a unique opportunity to bring our core skills, resources, people and energy, together with TKCP'S knowledge and expertise, to achieve real and lasting change for the lives of the kids and their families affected by kids cancer. 

“We are incredibly grateful Colin Biggers & Paisley are with us on our mission," said Owen Finegan, CEO Kids Cancer Project. "Together we will fund the best science to find kinder, more effective treatments and improve survival rates of the disease that kills more Australian children than any other.”

We participated in a range of appeals and fundraising events throughout the year and are pleased to announce we have contributed over $20,000 to their work.

Research matters

The Foundation is continuing its support for frontline organisations in our key focus areas of women, children, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. During lockdown we took on a number of research matters in these key areas. 

We provided legal research and drafting to Change the Record, Australia’s only national Aboriginal led justice coalition of Aboriginal peak bodies and non-Indigenous allies. It has two key goals – to end the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in prison, and to cut the disproportionate burden of violence borne by Aboriginal women and children. 

We researched and collated policing statistics from around Australia that may highlight any discriminatory or unequal administration of COVID-19 public health fines or warnings. 

We also provided research and drafting assistance for the Raise the Age of criminal responsibility campaign, where we researched the existing diversionary service provisions in each state and territory available for children aged 10-14 years and assisted in drafting recommendations to bridge this gap. This work is ongoing. 

Our lawyers also provided detailed advice and research on an international memorandum looking at coercive control legislation in Australia and internationally, and considering the criminalisation of financial abuse for Women's Legal Service NSW, Rape & Domestic Violence Service NSW and RLC Financial Abuse Legal Service. The research will be used to assist these services to advocate for change in existing state-based legislative schemes in Australia to better protect victims of domestic and family violence. 

Our work continues

Although 2020 has been a particularly difficult year, our Foundation was able to positively impact vulnerable communities and our staff morale. We are proud of our ongoing commitment to work on behalf of these communities and for the public good and will continue to support the community with pro bono legal assistance, volunteering and fundraising in 2021.

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2021.