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Award has professional appeal

News

Cite as: (2008) 82(6) LIJ, p. 34

Nominations are open for the 2008 LIV President’s Awards. Last year’s pro bono category winner Nieva Connell inspired the profession with her work for Heather Osland.

Hunt & Hunt partner Nieva Connell knew little about Heather Osland and her freedom of information (FOI) appeal when the pro bono file from the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) landed on her desk six years ago.

She had worked on FOI cases for her firm, but nothing prepared her for the years of work involved in Ms Osland’s FOI appeal against the Victorian government.

Ms Osland is seeking reasons why the Victorian government did not grant her a petition of mercy for the killing of her violent husband in 1999.

Despite the work, Ms Connell’s commitment never wavered. And she intends sticking with the case until it concludes, which may be within the next few weeks, following an appeal in the High Court on 24 April.

“It has been extraordinary to watch community groups, such as the Victorian Women’s Trust and concerned individuals, remain committed to Heather’s case for so many years, even after she was released in 2005. That’s been an inspirational legacy of this pro bono case,” Ms Connell said.

Another legacy was the winning, last year, of the LIV’s President’s Award pro bono category.

Ms Connell was honoured to receive the 2007 award and hopes many others will be nominated and use their involvement to encourage others to take on pro bono cases.

“I think pro bono work is very important and lawyers should consider getting involved in the practice, but people need to understand that it is a big commitment and you have to stick at it otherwise you will let people down. Pro bono work is not glamorous, so it has to be done for the right reasons,” she said.

One cultural shift she would like to see is the involvement of senior lawyers in pro bono. Invariably, it is the younger members of a firm or practice who are given the files. Ms Connell hoped her continued involvement would encourage other senior lawyers.

And while one person may win the award, people like Ms Connell know just how many others are involved, particularly in a case as complex as Heather Osland’s.

She paid tribute to the many barristers involved in the case over the years, including Ron Merkel QC, Jonathon Beach QC and Richard Attiwill.

Ms Connell studied arts/law at the University of Melbourne, later lectured there in property law in the Architecture Faculty and did further study in intellectual property. She joined Hunt & Hunt in 1999 and is now a partner with the firm.

Hunt & Hunt practitioners were, for a time involved in the PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic in Melbourne and Ms Connell spent most Tuesday nights advising people at various shelters about their legal rights and how to manage issues such as infringement notices.

Her willingness to do pro bono also harks back to her family and upbringing.

Growing up in the country town of Robinvale, she was struck by how few services were available in a town where many people were clearly disadvantaged.

“I got an opportunity to go away and study and that opportunity has enabled me to help others, and at the same time I do work that I am happy to be paid for by those who can afford to pay,” Ms Connell said.

LIV president Tony Burke said the pro bono category of the annual President’s Awards was just one way that the legal profession gave to the community. He said the awards were also a chance to recognise the contribution many lawyers make to their own profession.

“One of the big revelations as LIV president was to discover the extent of the generosity of fellow members in giving of their expertise in different practice areas. It is breathtaking the number of meetings that go on here, at the Institute during the day, in the evenings and on the weekends and lawyers are giving their time and knowledge for the benefit of other practitioners and for the community,” Mr Burke said.

“There is a long tradition in our profession of sharing knowledge and those nominated for the various awards are keepers of that great tradition and they should be honoured.”

LIV Events manager Susan Long said the LIV President’s Awards offered the profession the opportunity to recognise the work of legal practitioners who have shown great commitment to the profession.

“It is also, perhaps, a way for groups to thank individuals for their work in various areas.

“The legal profession has a reputation of looking only after themselves and a concentration on the billable unit, but many of our lawyers are not like that. They contribute to their communities in a variety of ways and this should be recognised,” Ms Long said.

Nominations for the 2008 awards, which recognise solicitors’ contributions to the general community, professional excellence in legal practice and the promotion and advancement of the legal profession, close on 18 July.

They can be put forward by a current Victorian legal practitioner or law firm.
For a full list of categories and other information, see http://www.liv.asn.au/events/about/events-Legal.html or contact Lucy Rozsa on ph 9607 9504 or email lrozsa@liv.asn.au.

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