Adelaide Law School launches Equal Opportunity Legal Advice Service

I am very excited to announce a third free legal advice service to be offered by Adelaide Law School.

As of Monday 15 January, the Equal Opportunity Legal Advice Service (EOCLAS) commenced operation. The service is co located at the Equal Opportunity Commission of SA in Pirie Street. The service is there to assist people with discrimination or equal opportunity problems. It can provide advice, legal support, legal research, to anyone who is thinking of making a complaint, or just wants to know about their rights and the law.

Adelaide Law School has a vibrant clinical legal education program, with 80 students per year selected to work in our own clinics, or in community legal offices, as part of the undergraduate elective subject Clinical Legal Education.

With services already operating in the Magistrates Court at Adelaide law.adelaide.edu.au/…/magistrates-court-legal-advice  and the Adelaide Legal Outreach Service law.adelaide.edu.au/…/adelaide-legal-outreach-service  our students already provide hundreds of hours of free legal support and advice in diverse areas of law. The EOCLAS offers a legal service in an area of acute need – discrimination and equal opportunity in the community and in the workplace, and an unrivalled opportunity for our law students to be involved in setting up an important legal service.

You can find out more about this service and make a booking for an appointment at our website https://law.adelaide.edu.au/free-legal-clinics/equal-opportunity-commission-legal-advice-service/or by contacting margaret.castles@adelaide.edu.aueoclas@adelaide.edu.au. 

I’m thrilled to be a part of this new initiative between the University of Adelaide Law School and the Equal Opportunity Commission.   It will be a fantastic opportunity to make a difference to people experiencing discrimination and for the students to solve real legal problems for real clients.  Solicitor Skye Schunke who also supervises at our Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service

EOCLAS photo copyThe inaugural EOCLAS team with supervising solicitor Skye Schunke and Dr Niki Vincent, Chair of the EOC. 

The launch of the EOCLAS represents yet another significant contribution of the clinical program which enables the Law School to provide outreach and support to the Adelaide community, in a much needed area. Prof Melissa De Zwart, Dean of Adelaide Law School.

 

 

 

Litigation + Mental Health?

Like most law schools, at Adelaide we worry about the mental well being of our students, and hope they will grow into resilient and happy professionals.  Sadly, statistics still show that there is a very high level of depression anxiety and mental unwellness in the legal profession.

But it’s not just lawyers!  Students doing their Clinical Legal Education placement at the Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service provide day to day legal support to unrepresented litigants in the Magistrates Court.  They soon realise that the stress and anxiety experienced by people who are representing themselves in court is even higher than that experienced by students and lawyers.snip 4

Student James D’Alessandro explains : “As the President of the AULSS in 2017 I have had a really strong commitment to mental wellbeing for law students, and I originaly planned a guide to support lawyers to manage the stress of  advocacy in their early careers. Working at MCLAS for my CLE placement I realised that self represented litigants suffered more stress and anxiety in litigation than lawyers, because it’s a completely foreign environment and the stakes are so high. So my fellow students and I at MCLAS came together and switched the focus to people involved in litigation, so that they can better navigate this very stressful time. I believe that initiatives like this will have ongoing relevance as there are more and more people representing themselves in the courts around Australia, and if they are to get real justice access, this sort of support is critical.”  

Most people have almost no life experience of courts or legal process. At best they’ve seen a bit of court room drama on TV or heard horror stories from friends or family.

There is a lot more to going to court than most people realise. Parties have to draft court documents, gather evidence, prepare arguments, try to negotiate with the other side, and try to explain their problems to a Magistrate or Judge. They might have to appear in court several times before trial.

And then there’s the law – at the best of times it is complex and requires a level of understanding that most people don’t possess. They end up confused and frustrated.

Final year law students James D’Alessandro, Nadia Markov, Danielle Schultz, Kate Strachan, and Henry Yin-Chen decided to produce a booklet to help support people representing themselves. Aimed at demystifying the process, the booklet provides great advice about managing the stress of litigation, and injecting some realism into decision making.

Photo” Working on this booklet highlighted the importance of non-legal considerations in deciding whether to pursue litigation. Ensuring that each party has a support network and access to legal and counselling services is paramount in maintaining mental well-being. Furthermore this experience emphasized the importance of using language and content that is understandable to those unfamiliar with the law. I worked with the publication designer and developed a product that I think will help self-represented litigants navigate the complex court procedures, and guide them through the emotions of litigation.  I am very proud to have been able to make a direct and meaningful contribution to the community as part of my CLE placement. This hands-on experience has taught me the practical realities faced by self-represented litigants, and given me an appreciation of the difficulties faced by those who are unfamiliar with the legal process.” Student Kate Strachan.

mental health guide 3

In his forward to the guide book, Chief Justice Chris Kourakis acknowledges the need for resources to support self represented litigants in court.

“Anxiety and other emotions undermine the logical, thorough and lateral thinking which are required to  resolve legal disputes whether by negotiation and mediation or judicial adjudication ….whilst all litigation is different, this booklet forewarns litigants in person broadly what to expect in court
and helps them recognise and rationalise their emotional reaction to the process.”

Congratulations to our MCLAS students who  provided many hours of free legal advice to unrepresented litigants in the magistrate court, and made a lasting contribution to supporting self represented litigants in the future.

 

For a copy of the booklet please email:

margaret.castles@adelaide.edu.au

 

 

Supporting Self Represented Litigants

Decades ago it was unusual for anyone to go to court without a lawyer representing them. Our legal system is adversarial. It  assumes litigants have expert legal advice.

Nowadays, it’s much more common for people to represent themselves. Some people don’t see the need for a lawyer, especially in straightforward disputes, but most self represented people simply can’t afford the cost of legal advice and representation. Not suprisingly, many Self Represented Litigants (SRLs) find the legal system (not to mention the law!) daunting, confusing and alienating.

The two free legal advice services offered by the Adelaide Law School as part of the Clinical Legal Education program – Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service (MCLAS)  and Adelaide Legal Outreach  Service (ALOS) – help fill this gap by providing free legal advice and support for people who need help preparing themselves for court.  These clinics are staffed by law students under the supervision of solicitors, providing an unrivalled educational experience as well as making an important community contribution.

Law students placed at ALOS in 2016 undertook an “international best practice” survey of ways to support SRLs. They identified the Access 2 Justice self guided online interview program which was already supporting thousands of litigants in the USA.
Snip20171107_2

As part of it’s commitment to community contribution the University provided seed funding to investigate this idea. A project team consisting of myself and Alex Stanley (one of the students involved in the original project, now a solicitor working at planning and environment specialist lawyers Botten Levinson) produced two working models of the program for use in the SA District Court.

We are delighted to announce that we have successfully obtained a $63000 grant from the Law Foundation of SA to take this project to the second stage. Partnering with JusticeNet SA,  which already offers a self representation service for SRLs in the District Court,  we will implement the A2J software, linking it to face to face and personalised online support for SRLs navigating the court system.

One of the key benefits of this software is that it is designed to be managed by everyday legal services providers, with limited IT and financial resources. Once our trial is complete, other potential users of this program – such as community legal centres and specialist legal advice services – will be able to adapt the program for their own client bases.

Part of the funding will focus on building community capacity – to transfer what we know about this program to JusticeNet and for JusticeNet in turn to be able to transfer that knowledge out into the wider legal services community.

Adelaide Law Students on placement as part of the Clinical Legal Education program will be involved every step of they way as this project unfolds, working on implementation, with A2J clients, and developing educational materials to support future users.

This system is already extensively used in the USA and we are very enthusiastic about its potential in SA.

Here is a link to a short video explaining the project, and links to the organisations mentioned above:

Video Demonstration of A2J software

Adelaide Law School free legal clinics

JusticeNet Self Representation Service

Mediation? What’s that all about?

At the Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service (a free legal advice service offered by the Adelaide Law School as part of the Clinical Legal Education elective subject) students regularly advise clients to consider mediation as an alternative to litigation, and as regularly are asked “what’s that?”

 

MCLAS facebook page

 

Lawyers, judges and law students are keen advocates of mediation – anything to avoid the uncertainty, distress, cost and disappointment of litigation. Mediation offers parties the chance to fully discuss and explore their dispute, with each other, face to face, with the support and guidance of a neutral third party. It’s cheaper, more humanistic, and importantly it offers parties the chance to discuss issues that no court will be interested in.

 

So why doesn’t everyone else know this?

 

Two years ago Adelaide Lawyer and Mediator Ruth Beach decided to address this question at a grass roots level – provide people with information and advice about how mediation can help them. And provide this information  at the very moment when people are receptive and interested – when they go to court for the first time in a dispute.

R_Beach_photo2[1]

Ruth set up a Mediation Information Service. A dozen qualified mediators volunteer to take turns attending the general civil list in the Magistrates Court each Monday and Tuesday to advise and inform parties of options other than going to trial. Sometimes they help people towards an agreement, if time permits they can offer a short mediation session.  All of this is done pro bono, with mediators offering their time and expertise at no charge.

“For many litigants, the initial directions hearing is often the first time they have seen the other party for a considerable period of time and communication may be fractious.  A mediator can assist to break down those communication barriers and reach resolution at an early stage before parties become even more positional.”

 

Adelaide Law School’s  Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service  took over  management of this service this year. Students have prepared handouts to parties about mediation, they organise the rosters, communicate with mediators and the court, and attend court with the mediators each week. Law students Millie Livingstone and Rachel Phillips devised all of the documentation and processes in early 2017, and law students Amanda Hughes and Jessica Watson took over the running of this program for second semester, and are doing an outstanding job.

 

“As a final year law student and coordinator of 

Amandathe Mediation Information Service, I work closely with mediators and lawyers, providing a fundamental service to Magistrates and parties involved in minor civil disputes. MIS provides a much needed informal conflict-resolution option, reducing the burden on the courts and Magistrates, who have a substantial case load. The service educates parties on mediation as an option for dispute resolution and can provide ad hoc mediation. I have benefited remarkably from the practical experience of attending court hearings and mediations, boosting my familiarity and awareness of the legal sphere. Through this experience I have interacted with and formed crucial relationships with legal and non- legal professionals.” 

Amanda Hughes who with Jessica Watson coordinated the MIS in second semester 2017.

 

Moving forward, students will gather empirical data on usage of the service so that MCLAS can provide reliable data to the court about the demand and value  of on-site immediate access to mediation services.

 

So far the service has been busy every day it operates, and is making a real difference.  It is a great opportunity for students to get first hand experience in this growing area of practice.

 

“The Mediation Information Service was a great practical exposure to how alternative dispute resolution operates within the court system. The mediators I volunteered with generously shared the professional experiences with me and I was even able to witness an on the spot mediation which resulted in a satisfactory resolution for both parties. The service added a great practical element to my degree!”  Elle Spyrou, CLE student. 

For more information on MIS contact :

Margaret.castles@adelaid.edu.au

Mediation Masterclass – ADR 2017

We were so privileged  to have 5 guest mediators to coach students in the mediation masterclass as part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution elective on Tuesday.

Students practiced their mediation skills with Adelaide mediators Ruth Beach, Greg Rooney, Peter Kassapidis, Bevan Bates and Bronwyn Adams coaching and providing “in the moment” feedback.

It was a fantastic opportunity for students to put into practice some of the key dispute resolution theory and skills they’ve been learning this semester, and talk face to face with some of SA’s most experienced mediators.

Thanks to our visiting coaches for offering their time and experience, and thanks to students for their enthusiasm and commitment. It’s very encouraging to see the talent that our students show in these concentrated practical exercises. Dispute resolution is a key skill for students to take into their professional careers.IMG_0834IMG_0830IMG_0828IMG_0821.

“The mediation masterclass was an invaluable learning experience. The opportunity to conduct a mock mediation while receiving individual guidance from an experienced mediator allowed me to see how they put mediation theory into practice, and think about the ways to overcome common issues that may arise in a mediation.” Damien Quick

” The mediation masterclass provided me with a ‘hands on’ opportunity to test out and practice the theories and principles learned in ADR.  Participating in the masterclass was a great way of practicing on how to dealing with aggrieved people, listening and identifying key issues. Having a mediator there was great as they provided their own experience, advice, insight on the pitfalls and tactics in managing  disputes and achieving results. I thoroughly enjoyed it, thank you Marg for organising it.” Emanuela Radulescu

Teaching Note:  Reflective experiential learning often relies upon students going in “the deep end” and reflecting on and analysing their learning after the event. That’s the model that we often use in clinic, and in some other teaching contexts. The more immediate strategy of “in the moment” coaching worked brilliantly in this class. Students who were not very experienced in mediation were able to ‘check’ strategy as they went, and adapt immediately to any suggestions made. As a mediator myself, I know the  importance of reflection in action in this process. Interactive coaching provided students with exactly this support.