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New home for legal assistance scheme

Briefs

Cite as: (2002) 76(11) LIJ, p.15

The Law Institute’s Legal Assistance Scheme has begun operating out of the offices of the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) on a six-month trial.

The scheme, which helps means-tested applicants get pro bono legal representation, will be run by manager Jane Dimsey and administrator Nick Troy from PILCH’s Lonsdale Street offices until April next year.

When the six-month trial is completed, the Institute will make a decision as to the scheme’s future structure and headquarters.

Institute CEO John Cain said there had been an extensive review of the scheme’s operation, which at the time was being run by a volunteer solicitor. One of the deciding factors to involve PILCH was the Victorian Bar’s decision to also house its legal assistance scheme there.

“PILCH was seen as the logical home to put all the schemes,” Mr Cain said. “We felt that when factors such as economies of scale and the synergies between the Institute and PILCH were taken into account, it made more sense to involve PILCH rather than run the scheme in isolation.”

Ms Dimsey, a lawyer who has worked in private practice and the West Australian Aboriginal Legal Service, said having the legal assistance schemes under the one roof made it much easier to organise a barrister and solicitor for applicants. Apart from setting up a process to adjudicate the merits of applicants, Ms Dimsey said it was important to make sure the work was evenly spread throughout the participating firms and solicitors.

“It’s really important that the profession is involved on a broad basis because if everyone does a little it takes the pressure off the few,” Ms Dimsey said.

“Our role is to make a preliminary assessment of whether a matter has merit and then to match applicants with lawyers with the expertise and capacity to provide the assistance required. Firms of all sizes can make a valuable contribution.”

She said the scheme was not designed to let governments off the hook in their responsibility to provide legal aid funding. “Altruism in private practice should be fostered and not over-exploited,” she said.

While the scheme has more than 400 firms on its database, Ms Dimsey said there was always a need for new members. The Institute has recently invited members to renew or register their interest in participating.

For more information on the scheme, contact Ms Dimsey or Mr Troy on 9225 6675.

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