Funding to help young people clear Invisible legal hurdles on the Border

Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula announced $200,000 funding over two years for a Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) integrated justice partnership on 1 June 2018. This funding will be used to continue the Invisible Hurdles project, involving the Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre, the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS) and Wangaratta-based NESAY, into the 2018-19 financial year.

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers welcomed the additional funding and thanked the State Government for acknowledging the importance of integrated justice partnerships, particularly those helping young people experiencing family violence.

“We’re excited about continuing this important work with our partners into the future,” Ms Rodgers said. “We know young people will not walk into a lawyer’s office off the street, so being on-site with services who they trust has been crucial for the success of the project.”

“Making a difference for people affected by family violence is a key priority for our service. Young people affected by family violence often have numerous other legal problems, so providing a friendly, accessible, wrap-around service is critical,” she said. “The sooner young people get legal help, the higher the chance of a positive outcome.”

The Victorian Legal Service Board Grants Program funded the Invisible Hurdles project from December 2015 to May 2018. This latest funding has been provided by the Department of Justice and Regulation. Ms Rodgers said the Invisible Hurdles Project Stage 1 final report and evaluation was in the process of being produced, and is expected to be launched in October. Without pre-empting the findings, Ms Rodgers said the health justice partnership had made an impact at various levels.

“We’re proud of how the Invisible Hurdles Project has helped young people understand their legal rights and solved their legal problems,” she said. “Along with our legal assistance, this has been achieved through staff at each service understanding how we work, identifying legal problems, being willing to refer young people and trusting us to act in their best care.”

Local lawyer repays community with help for people in need of legal assistance

A strong social conscience drawn out of the caring community he grew up in has driven a local man to volunteer to help locals needing legal advice for a range of issues. In his spare time, Maurice Blackburn lawyer Kip Frawley volunteers at the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) as part of a roster to give free legal advice at the fortnightly evening clinic.

With Volunteer Week being recognised nationally, Kip reflected on his willingness to volunteer, and how his effort has helped double the amount the number of appointments now available at the HRCLS evening clinic every second Tuesday.

Wangaratta-based HRCLS lawyer Deb Fisher said the strong volunteer culture in Wangaratta was helping make a difference for people needing legal assistance. “The evening clinic allows people from outside Wangaratta or those who can’t make daytime appointments, to access free legal advice outside work hours,” Ms Fisher said. “Thanks to the ongoing commitment of a growing number of volunteers, we have capacity to see six more clients than we would otherwise. We are grateful for their help and value their contribution.”

Born and raised in Wangaratta, Kip grew up with four siblings in a close family unit, and the values and ethos of his mother and father, GPs Jenny Murray and Gavin Frawley, had a lasting impact on how their son views the world and his place in it.

“They led by example. My parents are very community minded. Mum ran the school fete for years, and they got involved in the soccer and footy clubs when we started playing,” Kip said. “So the desire to ‘give back to the community’ was instilled at an early age.”

Once he’d settled on law as a career, Kip moved to Canberra to study at ANU. The lifestyle and environment enhanced his social justice conscience where he learnt and developed a particular interest in indigenous law and issues. For his last semester, Kip headed to Vienna after catching the travel bug during a visit to Indonesia.

“A highlight was a subject in mediation resolution with a large Austrian law firm, which had a partnership with the University of Vienna,” he said. “It was a great chance for me to see some of the world while finishing off study.”

Volunteer Kip Frawley is one of a number of local lawyers, including Wendy Couzens (pictured), volunteering on a regular basis at HRCLS.

On his return, Kip’s experience with social justice issues started while completing his Practical Legal Training in Darwin working at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency. Then after a short stint as a paralegal in the firm’s Melbourne office and his admission as legal practitioner, Kip joined Maurice Blackburn back in his home town just over 12 months ago.

“I’ve always been interested in social justice, and the no-win, no-fee arrangement Maurice Blackburn offers facilitates access to justice for people who might not otherwise be able to obtain it,” he said. “Growing up in the country, I always wanted to return to a regional area, so coming home was a perfect fit.”

Kip represents people in WorkCover and TAC claims to help people get compensation and medical treatment. “This idea of equality before the law – while it sounds good in theory – it’s not something we always see in practice. So for me it’s about fighting for that and sticking up for people in vulnerable situations,” he said.

Volunteering allows Kip the opportunity to help people as a way of repaying a community that gave him plenty when he was young. Before heading to Darwin, he approached HRCLS about volunteering in the hope he could one day take up a role, and last year reconnected with the service.

“Volunteer work is something I’ve always done, whether that is in the legal, community or sporting space and this is one small way that I can use my training to help people doing it tough,” he said. “I get exposure to different areas of law and it reminds me of why I got into law in the first place. I’d encourage other lawyers if they have the time to get involved at HRCLS, because community legal centres’ resources are thin and you can help people who need it the most.”

Anyone interested in volunteering with the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service can visit the Volunteer page.

Volunteering brings sense of personal satisfaction

About Wendy Couzens – Wangaratta evening clinic volunteer

How long have you been a lawyer? Almost 5 years.

 What is the name of your firm? Morgan Couzens Legal.

HRCLS volunteers Wendy Couzens and Kip Frawley at the Wangaratta Tuesday evening clinic.

 What attracted you to becoming a lawyer? I had worked as a law clerk for several years, and decided that I would enjoy working as a solicitor. I continued working as a clerk whilst undertaking university studies.

 Why did you decide to volunteer with HRCLS? I really enjoy helping clients in a practical sense by talking the client through the legal options available and also pointing out the practical reality of what those options mean for the client’s situation. Whilst working in private practice, the clients that I help are those who already know that they need a lawyer and can afford to pay for a lawyer. Volunteering with HRCLS I can assist people who sometimes aren’t certain what type of help they need and those who, for various reasons, cannot afford to pay a lawyer to act for them.

 What benefits do you get from volunteering as a lawyer? A sense of personal satisfaction and the knowledge that I am helping people in my local community with an expertise that many people don’t have.

 Why would you encourage other lawyers to volunteer? Assisting people outside your usual client group shows you what issues are relevant to other people in your community and what opportunities might be out there to give back. Finding solutions to unusual problems helps to develop lateral thinking skills.

How has volunteering helped you in your day-to-day role? Volunteering broadens my perspective to include issues that people outside my normal client group are facing. My firm writes an online blog which focuses on issues related to employment law and when I write for that blog, I often draw on questions that are asked of me both in private practice and as a volunteer.


Anyone interested in volunteering with the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service can visit the Volunteer page.

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