A prevalent issue emerging in the evolving legal landscape is the need to improve access to justice.
In 2013, approximately 500,000 Australians were projected to miss out on necessary legal services while unprecedented rises to federal court fees in 2010 and 2013 have further inhibited individuals’ access to justice as revealed in a 2013 Senate inquiry.
More and more disenfranchised individuals are deprived from equitable legal representation due to factors such as educational levels or financial capacities irrespective of their claim’s merit.
Consequently, the cornerstone tenet in a democratic society of the rule of law is becoming more and more eroded.
An inquiry conducted by the Productivity Commission over 2013-14 noted that the Federal Coalition Government is required to add an extra $200 million annually to legal aid services to close legal aid gaps, making approximately 400,000 more people eligible for legal aid grants.
So what has the incumbent Federal Coalition Government instead done to enhance access to justice and restore equality before the law?
Well, they unexpectedly slashed legal aid funding by $42 million over four years. And to add fuel to the fire, Victoria Legal Aid performed its most extensive cuts to legal aid grants ever as a result of depleted government funding.
If the Abbott-led Government is unable to pull out the cash needed for legal aid, a couple of lawyers in Victoria and New South Wales have decided to take it upon themselves to tackle this pervasive challenge.
Melbourne lawyer Laura Vickers established Nest Legal, while Sydney corporate lawyer Leonie Chapman founded LAWYAL Solicitors in July 2013, both leaving behind big law firms sharing the goal to provide affordable legal services.
Nest Legal is able to minimise overheads and consequently offer highly reduced fixed fees. Nest Legal’scounsel is criminal barrister Jeremy McWilliams, who also happens to be Vickers’ husband. The formidable duo complements each other perfectly.
While Vickers provides legal advice on disputes, infringements and criminal matters, along with conveyancing and wills, McWilliams teaches clients argument structure, courtroom etiquette and presentation.
LAWYAL Solicitors is able to also minimize overheads and fees by implementing a web platform. Chapman provides services ranging from banking and intellectual property to contract law and finance.
But wait, why would these highly successful lawyers ditch large private law firms in pursuit of commencing their own practices?
This is becoming an emerging trend in the legal landscape with eminent former Henry Davis York senior associate Sarah Nicita and former Minter Ellison partner Mitzi Gilliganalso recently establishing their own practices.
The pair relishes the low overheads, leaving behind far away the dreaded culture of egocentricity and timesheets.
What exactly is fuelling this trend? Chapman and Vickers, amongst others, are killing two birds with one stone – while endeavouring to attract clients who find the cost of traditional legal services too exorbitant, they run their business outside archetypal business hours in the evening.
By doing so, they can continue to raise their kids whilst securing clients who are also occupied during the daytime.
Research from the Law Council of Australia elucidates that care-taking families, especially for women, is one of the major impediments to career progression in the legal field.
So is there a more truly innovative business model that bridges the legal aid gap whilst ensuring women can practice law and fulfil family responsibilities simultaneously?
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