Providing our clients with access to free legal services does not necessarily mean we provide them with justice. With 156,854 clients turned away from community legal centres (CLCs) in 2014,1 it is clear that we cannot meet the high demand for our services with a case-by-case approach alone. There is a risk that we are not getting to, and will not ever get to, those most in need. There is also a risk that by being part of an unjust system we merely perpetuate its injustice through our work.
Community law work is not always easy. We hold the tension between limited resources and overwhelming legal need, and have the unfortunate privilege of being exposed to the inadequacies of law through our clients’ stories. Yet, as the Productivity Commission highlights in its 2014 Access to Justice Arrangements report, it is this very exposure that makes us well placed to start addressing those inadequacies.
One way that CLCs have historically done this is through strategic casework – the use of legal cases as a social change or advocacy strategy.
As part of the Victoria Law Foundation’s CLC Fellowship, Agata Wierzbowski presents seven principles of strategic legal practice for community legal centres.