Adelaide University Law Clinics overcome challenges of lockdown to keep delivering free legal services to the community
As we start the long road out of isolation, it’s worth reflecting on the work that the Law School free legal advice services have been doing over this difficult period.
Legal problems don’t go away in a pandemic – in fact for a lot of people they get worse, so we were determined to keep our 5 free community legal advice services up and running despite isolation requirements.
Our clinics adapted to the change in practice from face to face office based interviews to remote interviewing, and then remote offices, very quickly. By the time isolation was inevitable, we had already moved to interviewing clients remotely with our supervisors and students meeting remotely with each other and with clients.
"Our practice model didn’t change – students still see clients themselves and then consult with the supervisor for instructions before going back to the client. Documentation is handled synchronously by email with clients and the office. It all happens on ZOOM, or by phone. Each office has devised (and revised!) detailed protocols for each step in the interview and advice process, including security, passwords, managing client interactions, and supporting clients with this challenging transition. Video instructions for clients to help them set up ZOOM and detailed advice on how to best manage a remote interview have been prepared by students at each clinic, as well as detailed step by step written instructions. Students have thought long and hard about how using video conferencing is different to face to face interviewing and have adapted their approach to this new medium.
Our students have performed outstandingly. Only 3 weeks into their clinical placements, they had to transform to online remote work, and many of them found this challenging. Many noted issues with organisation, motivation, focus, and feeling isolated. To their credit, they’ve come together as teams, using virtual offices and online chat for their work together. Meanwhile our supervisors, Ross Savvas, Skye Schunke, and Patrick Wille, as well as faculty staff Marg Castles and Beth Nosworthy, have put in many hours and much imagination and on the run problem solving, to make sure we could deliver services despite the shutdown."
- Marg Castles, CLE Director.
"Each Australian has their own perspective and circumstances and some of our clients' perspectives on the lockdown have been remarkable: businesses lost, trips of a lifetime cancelled and uninsured. If ever there was a time the fine print mattered, it’s now. But there’s also been the need for negotiation and mediation as we all weather the same storm, albeit in different boats. Life at the hard edges still goes on: people are dying too young, families are breaking up, tenants are absconding. The law is woven through it all and its a privilege to help people negotiate it."
- Ben Angel working at home for the Adelaide Legal Outreach Service Team.
Transitioning our clinic to run entirely online after only 3 weeks in practise has not been without its challenges. Whilst I miss the social aspects of the in-person clinic experience, running the MCLAS clinic online has been an amazing opportunity. It has enabled us to develop skills that will be invaluable in professional practise, including online file management, communication and online client interviewing techniques. My experience in the MCLAS clinic has been invaluable. I am extremely proud to be a part of such an amazing program that is providing important services to members of our community.
- Paige Likos is doing her CLE placement at the Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service.
Moving online for the placement seemed a lot more daunting than it actually turned out to be. In fact, I think a lot of workplaces are currently in the midst of realising that you don’t need a physical office to carry out business in the 21st century, and that things won’t totally fall apart if people work from home. …because applications like Zoom and Box make it possible to seamlessly collaborate. It’s far from perfect, and poses issues relating to access to justice as not everyone can do online interviews and send documents back and forth digitally. I think it goes to show that something as complicated as running a totally remote legal service can actually work in the current day through tools that already exist (albeit with quite a few growing pains).
- Oliver Hales is doing his CLE placement at the Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service.
While working from home required a conscious mental adjustment, having the support of team members, supervisors and staff made the initial transition very smooth. Even though we were all in different locations, I knew that my team members and supervisor were readily available and only a quick ZOOM video call, email or message away."
- Jasmin Arouri is placed at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Free Legal Advice Service.