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In the public interest

In the public interest

By Karin Derkley


Victoria Legal Aid CEO Louise Glanville is mindful of the need to nurture VLA’s relationships with the private sector.

Nine months into her role as Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) CEO, Louise Glanville is relishing the challenge of running a large complex organisation with the power to make real change in the lives of vulnerable people.

“I like big organisations that deal with complex problems and have a social justice focus. And I love the legal system – it engages my mind because there are so many interesting things happening.”

Ms Glanville came to the job after roles with the National Disability Insurance Agency and the Responsible Gambling Authority, both of which shared a strong focus on the kind of intersectional social justice issues the VLA deals with on a daily basis.

“The driver for the jobs I’ve taken is the difference you can make to the lives not just of individuals, but to wider community and societal expectations.”

It was at university that Ms Glanville says she started to take an interest in the role of the government in shaping society. She studied social work at the University of Melbourne and law at Monash University.

“I became very interested in understanding who was advantaged or disadvantaged by what governments did. I was never a subscriber of the trickle-down theory that said if people at the top are doing well, it flows down to everyone.”

Working at community legal centres gave her an appreciation of how issues like mental illness, family violence and disability compound other challenges in people’s lives. “Helping people is not just about helping them with their legal problems, but also about all the other aspects of their lives that impact on them, whether it’s employment or housing or something like family violence.”

At VLA Ms Glanville manages an organisation of 880 employees, coordinates 435 private practitioners across 278 firms, and administers funding for 36 community legal centres around the state.

All are working under financial constraints exacerbated by the increase in demand from a growing population and from legislative changes that have brought more and more people into contact with the law.

That makes it essential to pull together as a sector, she says. “If resources are tight everybody tends to hunker down into their own area . . . I’d like to see more focus on how we all work together as part of the justice system on the basis that anything that happens in one part of the system affects us all.”

She believes the “mixed economy” that uses a mix of private and public practitioners to deliver legal aid in the state is the most effective way to build a strong justice system, and says VLA is mindful of the need to nurture its relationships with the various parts of the legal aid sector, including with the private sector.

“We couldn’t deliver legal aid in this state without private practitioners,” she says.

She has met twice already with the LIV to discuss a range of issues. “We hope to be good colleagues and partners in the future. Good partnerships rely on a good exchange of information and the building of trust.”

She says she is committed to a process of engagement to “explain what we might be thinking so there are no surprises, and for people to contribute their own ideas to how there could be more effectiveness and efficiency”.

Compared to other jurisdictions, VLA rates of pay to private practitioners are “quite good”, she maintains, but she also understands the pressure being brought by changes in system processes “where people are now having to do two or three hearings where they once did just one, for example, and yet the rate might not have changed.”

VLA will consider requests for higher rates “in the context of the resources that are available to us generally,” she says. “My commitment is that when people raise these issues we will look at it and say what are we doing? Is it reasonable or not? What can we afford?”

What she particularly enjoys in her new role is the opportunity to engage in big picture strategic advocacy. “I love the way we are able to take the learning from the matters that people raise with us as individuals and use that to think about what our strategic orientation should be.”

The VLA’s Robodebt campaign, for example, arose out of what began as a triage service for individual problems, but which steadily emerged as a systemic issue with the manner in which the Commonwealth was going about its debt collection. VLA has now taken the issue to the Federal Court in a test case.

Like other legal organisations, VLA is also focusing on wellbeing in a profession where practitioners are working in “quite complex situations” on a regular basis, and all too likely to stretch themselves if it means keeping someone out of jail. “We are also looking at how the system impacts on that, and giving staff ways to talk about their experiences rather than bottling things up inside.”

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