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Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Improving pathways to catch legal problems early

Legal Aid NSW adopted an integrated approach to service delivery, intervening early before legal problems escalate.

OBJECTIVE: Access to justice

Encouraging timely legal problem-spotting

Law Check-Up is a practical tool to help community and health workers diagnose client legal needs. It is a one-page 'tick and flick' checklist that is quick and easy to use at intake, assessment and case management meetings and can be easily applied by non-lawyers. It focuses on civil law problems in areas such as financial hardship, consumer, social security and housing which can often go undetected.

Accompanied by training and referral information, Law Check-Up supports earlier pathways to legal assistance for vulnerable clients, particularly those experiencing multiple legal problems. It was developed in response to the Legal Australia-Wide Survey (Law Survey 2012) finding that non-legal workers are often the only point of contact for many people with legal problems.

The Law Check-Up package was launched in November 2014, with over 600 participants attending 30 workshops during 2015.

Easy access to free 'just in time' legal information

This year, Legal Aid NSW introduced webinars (online seminars) for the general public and for community workers - information about the law without leaving home. This is especially useful for people in rural and regional New South Wales, or those who cannot leave home (see CLE highlights).

Webinars are a useful source of 'just in time' information for people when they are experiencing a legal problem. They can identify their problem and where to go for help.

Webinar topics include sexting and cyber bullying, unfair dismissal, drink driving, divorce, child support, mortgage stress, apprehended violence order conditions, car accidents, drink driving and fines.

Legal Aid NSW first started offering webinars in October 2014. In the first nine months there have been over 600 participants.

Mobile devices provide a handy gateway to legal information

Finding legal information quickly using smartphones and tablet devices is much easier now using Legal Aid NSW apps for Android and Apple mobile devices. With people spending less time on desktops and more time on mobile devices, it was important to provide a handy gateway to useful information. Among other things, people can search for a Legal Aid NSW service close to them, watch videos about the law, book into a law workshop or webinar and access our factsheets and resources.

Many people are not aware of the different ways that Legal Aid NSW can assist them but the apps provide a very clear picture. They are particularly useful to people in regional areas, who may not have easy access to legal services.

There were 6,595 user visits to the Apple mobile app and 1,091 downloads. The Android app that was not launched until December 2014 recorded 2,538 sessions and 363 downloads.

OBJECTIVE: Strong partnerships

Capturing clients least likely to access legal services

The Legal Australia-Wide Survey found that people in New South Wales only saw a lawyer for their legal problem in one third of matters. Instead, they sought legal help from non-legal advisers, including financial advisers, health or welfare professionals.

The survey revealed that there is a correlation between long-term illness/ disability and legal problems. People with a long term illness or disability were more than twice as likely to report one or more legal problems. The number of legal problems reported increased with the level of disability or illness. Those with complex physical problems and a mental illness were 10 times more likely to experience legal problems.

Legal Aid NSW is working with other government and non-government agencies to establish health justice partnerships that integrate health and legal services in one location to better meet the needs of disadvantaged people with disabilities and health problems. Lawyers provide services on site in health settings and also train health workers to identify legal problems and refer people for early assistance. Health justice partnerships offer a targeted and integrated approach for those clients with complex needs who are least likely to access legal services. See case study below.

Legal Aid NSW is an active partner in a number of health justice partnership projects across Sydney and the state:

  • In South Western Sydney, Legal Aid NSW civil lawyers, together with lawyers from South West Sydney Legal Centre, provide weekly outreach services at the Hub, a community health centre targeting Aboriginal people. Legal Aid NSW is piloting the use of the Law Check-Up tool with the Hub. Under the pilot program, health and support workers use the checklist to identify clients with civil law problems and refer them to the Hub to access mental health and legal services.

  • Legal Aid NSW partnered with NSW Health and the Population Health Leadership Group (comprising senior leaders from NSW Health) to expand the Work and Development Order Scheme (see Debt was reduced through plans, waivers and volunteer work) in South West Sydney so that vulnerable people, such as people with mental health and serious addiction issues can reduce unpaid fines through participation in suitable treatment programs.

  • Legal Aid NSW funded the Legal Health = Mental Health project, a partnership between Central Coast Community Legal Centre and Legal Aid NSW to educate mental health caseworkers about the legal system so that they can appropriately refer clients.

Case study

Legal issues picked up in health setting

Jane was referred to Legal Aid NSW by Bidyari Aboriginal Health Centre. Jane has schizophrenia and is also in a methadone program. She was imprisoned five years ago and has been homeless since her release.

We advised Jane about her entitlements. We also discussed Jane's Centrelink issues and assisted with her housing matter.

Resources for older people in regional areas

Free or reduced cost legal services are available to older people in a growing number of regional areas through the Legal Pathways for Older People project - a partnership between Legal Aid NSW, Council on the Ageing NSW, The Aged Rights Service (TARS) and the Law Society of NSW. The project assists people to protect their assets and to plan for the future.

Calls to TARS for legal assistance from older people needing help with wills and power of attorney, increased by 83 per cent last year.

Since last year, there has been an increase of 141 per cent in the number of callers who received a referral to another legal service provider for legal assistance for their legal problem. There was a 55 per cent increase in the number of documents drawn up for callers who were given an appointment with a private lawyer to have a will, enduring power of attorney or enduring guardianship document drafted.

The project has been extended to older people in some regional areas, as private lawyers working in Temora, Wagga Wagga, Narrandera, Toukley and the Lake Macquarie, Newcastle and Lower Hunter areas have agreed to provide these services to clients in their areas.

The 2015 Legal Topics for Older People Diary - our most successful diary yet - was widely circulated to older people around the state. Over 100,000 copies were distributed. The diary meets an identified need by older people and those who assist them.

This year, the diary was mentioned in 37 newspaper articles and on radio. Feedback shows that older people found the diary very useful, especially the "wealth of legal information" that lets people know where to go to solve their legal problem.

The year ahead

Provide training on Law Check-Up for Women's Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service workers, increasing early detection of other legal issues for women who are experiencing domestic violence.

Make better use of technology to improve accessibility for clients, partners and stakeholders.

Provide early intervention services to women in antenatal wards in hospitals who are experiencing domestic violence, and whose children are at risk of neglect and abuse - part of health justice partnerships.