In brief - The Colin Biggers & Paisley community has continued its strong commitment to pro bono, volunteering and fundraising work throughout a somewhat uncertain FY21. Our people have again stepped up at a time of significant need to assist many individuals, not for profits and charities. 

Adjusting to the New Normal 

Whilst the justice gap is at risk of widening as the effects of COVID-19 continue to impact on communities in Australia and around the globe, our people have expertly and swiftly modified their work and approach to ensure the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation (the Foundation) is able to continue to assist individuals and communities in need. The focus has now shifted from ‘temporary measures’ to ‘the new normal’ and our people have shown a remarkable capacity to adapt under both conditions. 

The major benefits we have seen are greater opportunities for our lawyers to provide their expertise on pro bono matters from wherever they may be located, and the conditions for participating being less onerous (e.g. reduced travel time), resulting in more lawyers volunteering and assisting vulnerable communities. 

The introduction of telephone advice rosters has allowed our lawyers to support organisations they were previously geographically barred from assisting and the use of technology has in fact led to the Foundation fostering new collaborations with our community partners across Australia. 

The Foundation's major fundraising initiative for The Kids Cancer Project saw us launch a completely virtual event in August, Step up for Kids' Cancer, that enabled all of our people to participate in and raise money towards fighting childhood cancer. It was also an opportunity for our people to get out and move, particularly important from a health and wellbeing perspective, at a time when many are disconnected from their teams, office, friends and family. More than 80 of our people signed up to the event, each walking 80km over 10 days whilst raising funds. We raised over $64,000 towards supporting innovative science to improve childhood cancer treatments.

In FY20, the Foundation's volunteering programs shifted to a virtual only model. Emerging from the first wave of lockdowns there was a real need to reconnect our people. This year we used volunteering as a way to bring our people back together, benefiting the community and our people by connecting them with their colleagues. We have adapted our volunteer programs to be in line with the ‘new normal’, understanding these programs are constantly changing and responding to the restrictions in each office at any one time. This fluid approach has meant our people were still able to participate in community programs and be proud of the Foundation's commitment at a time when it is most needed. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

The Foundation has been encouraged by the extraordinary breadth of work undertaken by our people to assist communities across Australia. Whilst COVID-19 presented many challenges, it has also given rise to some exciting opportunities. We have seen our people face the challenges with professionalism and compassion, and opportunities have been leveraged to ensure that our community partners and our people can meet the needs of vulnerable people and organisations representing these communities. 

At the same time, we have worked very hard with our community partners to ensure that the most vulnerable continue to be able to access much needed legal services, and can also continue to be assisted by organisations in their communities. The Foundation has seen a rise in people experiencing financial distress, housing and tenancy issues, domestic and family violence, employment-related issues and problems accessing social security. We continue to work closely with our community partners to ensure these clients receive the assistance they need. 

This year has taught us a lot about our people's resilience and commitment to keep pro bono and volunteering service delivery going, even in the most challenging of circumstances. 

During 2022, we will be exploring further opportunities for client collaboration with the work of the Foundation and our projects. 

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 2024.