this product is unavailable for purchase using a firm account, please log in with a personal account to make this purchase.

The LIV is currently closed to all visitors.

We are working remotely to deliver member services. For more information visit our 

COVID-19 Hub
Select from any of the filters or enter a search term

Inside stories: Milestone year for Law Week

Inside stories: Milestone year  for Law Week

By Karin Derkley

Interviews Law Week 


This year’s event marks 40 years of celebrating the law and its importance to the community.

Forty years ago “idealistic” young regional lawyer Chris Riordan was convinced the law needed to become more accessible to ordinary people. Working in a Shepparton firm with his brother and father, Mr Riordan was the chair of the Goulburn Valley Law Association and had recently been elected to LIV Council.

“I'd been reading a book by Professor (later International Court Justice) Christopher Weeramantry called The Law in Crisis about how little most people know about the law,” Mr Riordan says. “I’d heard of Law Day in the US, and thought it might be possible to run something of the kind in Australia.” In 1958 US president Dwight Eisenhower had declared 1 May as Law Day to reflect on the role of law in the foundation of the country and recognise its ongoing importance.

Canvassing the idea of Victoria having its own Law Day to the LIV Council, Mr Riordan says the initial response was lukewarm. “They weren’t all that interested, but they agreed I could run with it and they would contribute in kind with people and stationery and things. 

Law Week 1980: Attorney-General Haddon Storey with police commissioner Mick Miller at the official opening

“That made me all the more determined to get it happening and I took the bit between my teeth. We got a committee together of 12-16 people from across the profession, the media, senior people at the education department, government, police and the Citizens Advice Bureau.” 

Among those brought on to the committee were Deb Ganderton, then working at the LIV in the newly established management advisory services, and her friend Gwenda Leheny, newly returned from a stint overseas. 

“Riordan said to me: Ganderton, we need to make this happen,” says Ms Ganderton. “We needed a coordinator and while I didn’t have any experience managing events, I was good at community engagement and the LIV was happy for me to do it as part of my pro bono work.”

That first year was a “baptism of fire” Ms Ganderton says. “I had no idea what was involved. We didn’t fail on one single activity, but if you could have seen what went on in the background. There were times I was exhausted and in tears.”

In the end the sheer number of people who wanted to be involved meant the program filled up a whole week and Law Week was born. “It was such a new adventure that people really wanted to be involved and see it rolled out and make it work,” Ms Leheny says. The two ended up being part of the organising secretariat for the next two and a half years.

What was extraordinary, says Ms Ganderton, was the range of groups involved with the program in those early years. “There were the police, schools, community legal services, but also lots of lawyers and law firms.” 

As many as 600 lawyers were involved in the event, with law firms offering information sessions and free legal check-ups.

The organising group managed to secure sponsorship from the Yellow Pages, Telecom (Telstra’s precursor) and other corporate sponsors. The Sun and The Age ran full page ads, and the Herald sponsored an event for secondary school students to give orations on law.

Law Week 1980: Bus tour of the courts

The event was officially opened by then state attorney-general Haddon Storey at the National Gallery of Victoria’s great hall. 

A Women and the Law panel moderated by former ABC broadcaster Jon Faine featured three up-and-coming young women  – Linda Dessau (now Victorian governor), Jennifer Coate (later to become a Family Court judge and one of the commissioners for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse) and Sally Brown (who became chief magistrate then a Family Court judge).

“It was a pretty exhilarating time,” Mr Riordan says. “It took off and was a great success.”

Law Week has continued to be an important event on the legal calendar, supported by the courts, the community law sector and the LIV.

What is less common these days is the participation of law firms, says Ms Ganderton. “There used to be so many legal practices and individual lawyers involved back in those days. They’d offer free legal check-ups that were a great way of demystifying the law and reaching out to the community.” 

In its 40th year, Victoria Law Foundation (VLF), which organises Law Week, is once again promoting Law Week to law firms and legal practitioners. 

VLF CEO Lynne Haultain says running a Law Week event is not just a great way practitioners can give back to their communities, but also a good way to build business. “Providing free legal information to those who need it builds networks and enhances your profile,” Ms Haultain says.

VLF can help find a venue for the event and will promote it in its Law Week program. Practices interested in participating in this year’s Law Week can contact the VLF’s events team on 9604 8100 or email

Law Week, 18–24 May. ■

Lawyers give back

For the past five years, Carew Counsel Lawyers has run free information seminars for Law Week covering the basics of family law. “Our attendees are people who are thinking about getting a divorce and don’t have the slightest idea of how it works in law and some of the terms that are used,” says client services manager Thomas Voss.

While some attendees will go on to take up the firm’s services as clients, Mr Voss says the main intention is to give people some free information. “Family law is expensive, so if we can help out with some free information we see it as doing a good thing for the community.”

Mr Voss says conducting the information sessions involves a couple of hours of preparation along with the two one-hour sessions “but it’s worth it in terms of the results. Law Week does all the promotion for you, so it’s pretty low risk.”

Mr Voss says it’s important to keep the content simple and relatable. “You're dealing with people 

who don’t have a big knowledge of the law, so you need to make sure it is as accessible to as many people as possible.”

North-east Victorian firm Morrison & Sawers director Brooke Dedini says her firm ran its first free legal check-ups as part of Law Week in 2018 and is planning to do so again this year. Three of the firm’s practitioners each ran a three-hour session of half hour appointments on a range of disputes and issues. 

“It went really well,” Ms Dedini says. “A lot of attendees went on to become ongoing clients, which was a bonus. But that wasn’t the driving force.” 

Ms Dedini says she ran similar clinics for the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service, and feels the legal check-ups are vital for people otherwise hesitant to see a lawyer. “A lot of the time people do have legal questions but they can’t justify seeing a lawyer. A lot of them are not eligible for legal aid but they can’t afford private legal advice.

“They are the ones who fall through the cracks and it’s quite sad. With our legal check-ups, at least they can get some advice and then the ball is in their court as to whether they want to proceed as a private paid client."

Views expressed on (Website) are not necessarily endorsed by the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV).

The information, including statements, opinions, documents and materials contained on the Website (Website Content) is for general information purposes only. The Website Content does not take into account your specific needs, objectives or circumstances, and it is not legal advice or services. Any reliance you place on the Website Content is at your own risk.

To the maximum extent permitted by law, the LIV excludes all liability for any loss or damage of any kind (including special, indirect or consequential loss and including loss of business profits) arising out of or in connection with the Website Content and the use or performance of the Website except to the extent that the loss or damage is directly caused by the LIV’s fraud or wilful misconduct.

Be the first to comment