After several decades of widespread experience in the legal profession, Dr Jacoba Brasch QC has certainly seen it all.
After her admission to the bar in 2000, she has since then carved an impressive career path and developed an extensive practice in family law, child protection, mental health law and family violence.
Most recently, she was elected as the 2021 President of the Law Council of Australia (LCA) after chairing the LCA’s Domestic and Family Violence Taskforce.
As she approaches the halfway mark in her year of presidency, QLS Proctor sat down with Dr Brasch to discuss some of the important issues she’s focusing on this year.
Lawyers supporting lawyers – Why it’s crucial
In 2021 Dr Brasch has placed much focus on addressing the significant issue of access to justice in Australia as well as the acknowledgement and support of mental health amongst lawyers.
She says, to support the community and their clients, legal practitioners must support and acknowledge one another and the hard work they do.
The LCA’s latest initiative ‘The Lawyer Project’ identifies the breadth and depth of the many contributions lawyers make to society.
“We [lawyers] do so much more than make trade and commerce flow, or problem solve, or go to court. Most of us do largely unsung pro bono work, community service and add to civic value. We do so much more than just a job,” Dr Brasch said.
“The Lawyer Project documents all of this. We ought to feel proud of what we do, and, when the role of the solicitor or barrister in society is maligned, we ought to feel assured that we are on the right side of history.”
Mental health and support resources, Dr Brasch says, are key to building a solid, supportive foundation within the legal profession.
“Identifying the breath of what we [lawyers] do is one project, but another is better recognising the effect on us, of that work.’
“I don’t think we [lawyers] do a terribly good job at looking after ourselves, nor turning to colleagues and asking, ‘Are you OK?’” she said.
“Whilst each of the Law Societies and Bar Associations have excellent care programs, the LCA can do a better job of facilitating the sharing of information about these programs.’
“Our Societies and Associations should not have to reinvent the wheel.”
Access to Justice – how do we fill the ‘missing middle’?
All Australians have the right under the law to seek justice, however many Australians are facing complex social and economic challenges that result in a lack of access to justice for them.
The ‘missing middle’ are those Australians left without access to legal advice or representation – those who do not qualify for legal aid but cannot afford private representation.
Often, the missing middle tends to be low-to-medium income earners as well as older Australians living in rural, regional and remote parts of the country.
While community legal centres and pro bono services are critical to responding to the needs of the missing middle, these are finite resources and unable to adequately keep pace with the increasing demand.
In addressing the issue, Dr Brasch says there is a two pronged approach by lawyers individually and the legal profession as a whole.
“Individual lawyers can improve access to justice by taking on pro bono work and the work that many do on LACs and Community Legal Centre’s (CLC),” she says.
“There is also volunteering with their professional associations and joining appropriate committees to contribute their views on how the system can be improved to better ensure access to justice.”
However, Dr Brasch says these valuable contributions cannot be seen by treasuries as a replacement for proper court resourcing.
“The profession as a whole can, with one voice, call for proper resourcing of the courts, access to and adequate funding for legal assistance services, and working with governments to ensure that vulnerable Australians or those in regional/rural areas are also able to access the system.”
You can hear more from Dr Jacoba Brasch at the 2021 Annual Gold Coast Legal Conference on the Law Council of Australia’s commitment to addressing the issue of access to justice and how the legal profession can respond innovatively to meet the needs of the ‘missing middle’. Register your spot today.