LawRight – Celebrating 20 years of good pro bono

In 2001, a curiously named organisation – the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH) – quietly appeared on the local legal landscape providing pro bono legal assistance and service referral in civil law matters for the state’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people.

It started as noble cause and vision in the minds of a small cohort of lawyers – including the organisation’s champion and original true believer Tony Woodyatt – concerned about budgetary cuts to Legal Aid Queensland and the lack of access to civil law services in Queensland.

They believed a ‘clearing house’ approach would be the most efficient and targeted response to community need and formed a planning group which first formally met on 5 April 2001 and was officially incorporated on 8 June 2001 as QPILCH.

QPILCH was launched by Queensland’s then Chief Justice Paul de Jersey AC and the state’s Attorney-General, Rod Welford, on 19 April 2002.

Patron Chief Justice Paul de Jersey AC at the launch of QPILCH in April 2002.

Mr Woodyatt, who was QPILCH’s first official employee, brought with him a level of enthusiasm, dedication, perseverance and doggedness to help people in need and ensure that marginalised and disadvantaged Queenslanders were provided with access to civil law services.

His approach was so unique that it was embraced by legal practitioners from all levels of the profession – including the judiciary – and has forever changed access to free civil legal advice for Queenslanders in need.

Jeff Giddings of Griffith University and Associate Professor Francesca Bartlett, at the launch of LawRight in 2017.

On 8 June 2021, QPILCH (now known as LawRight after a name change in 2017) celebrated its 20th anniversary and took a moment to reflect on the tens of thousands of Queenslanders it has been able to assist.

In 20 years, LawRight has helped 20,000 clients to access justice, 10,000 people helped at homelessness and health organisations, 2000 connected to pro bono representation and 8000 people assisted to self-represent themselves in court.

Launch of the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic in December 2002 and in operation at West End in 2009.

Since Mr Woodyatt’s retirement in 2017, LawRight is now headed by joint directors Linda MacPherson and Sue Garlick and currently has as its patron Queensland Chief Justice Catherine Holmes AC and as President former Supreme Court judge the Honourable Roslyn Atkinson AO.

Ms Atkinson, speaking with QLS Proctor, said it was a bold group of lawyers who created QPILCH at a time when Legal Aid funding for civil litigation had been reduced significantly and the concept of structured rather than ad hoc pro bono assistance was emerging in Australia.

In August 2003, attendees at the first public interest address (by David Marr on the Tampa affair) included Gerry Murphy, Tricia Schmidt, and inaugural President Andrew Buchanan. At a 2016 public interest address, Paul Newman, the Hon. Margaret White, Jacqueline Reed and President Lucy Bretherton attended.

At the time QPILCH was established, Ms Atkinson was responsible for managing the civil case law list in her role as a Queensland Supreme Court judge. She says she had immediate, first-hand experience of how valuable it was to the courts as well as the growing number of disadvantaged self-represented litigants who could not afford to pay for a lawyer and were in desperate need of assistance.

Donnella Mills, President Matthew Jones, Mick Gooda and Eddie Cubillo at a public interest address in 2018. Patron Chief Justice Catherine Holmes and Matthew Jones with winners of the Banco Court Debate in 2018.

Ms Atkinson said: “Its first employee and subsequent director was Tony Woodyatt. His skill and commitment and innovative thinking was the key to the development of the organisation.

“He took both a global and local approach, learning from the best the world had to offer to develop a unique service which provided the opportunity for the legal profession in Queensland to shine in providing public interest advocacy through pro bono work.”

Then Patron the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC with staff at a Street Soccer tournament. Walk for Justice 2018.

Ms Atkinson said that behind each of LawRight’s many milestones and achievements was the hard work and dedication of legal professionals willing to collaborate rather than compete to create a compelling vision.

“LawRight’s vision is to animate the rule of law and disrupt cycles of disadvantage by increasing access to justice in civil matters, through strategic pro bono assistance – and over 20 years we have continued to do this,” she said.

Staff at LawRight office, West End, in 2017. Inaugural President Andrew Buchanan, Caterer Supremo!

During the 2020-21 financial year, Queensland practitioners provided more than 22,000 hours of free legal services through LawRight, with more than 1550 clients receiving intensive legal services that increased their access to housing, income, health and legal rights.

“We have no shopfront and instead our staff and pro bono lawyers are embedded at 21 different locations,” Ms Atkinson said.

Linda Macpherson and Sue Garlick, who were appointed as co-directors after Tony Woodyatt’s retirement at end of 2017. Several founders at June 2021 20th anniversary event, including Dr Jeff Giddings (on screen), Dan O’Connor, Graham Quinlivan, Rob Reed, Hugh Scott-Mackenzie RFD, Lucy Bretherton, Andrew Buchanan and Simon Cleary.

“These include courts such as the Magistrates Court, the District Courts, the Supreme Court, both the Trial Division and the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court, the Federal Courts, QCAT and the Mental Health Review Tribunal as well as Pro Bono Connect and community health and justice partnerships such as the Wuchopperen Health Service, Anglicare Homelessness Hub, Douglas House and Hambledon House in Cairns; and in Brisbane, 3rd Space, Zig Zag, Atira, Footprints, Brisbane Youth Service, Micah Projects, New Farm Neighbourhood Centre, Multicultural Australia and the Mater Young Adults Health Centre.

“The aim always is to provide deeply integrated legal services, to assist the most complex clients with complex lives, in a way that brings real change.

“We deliver clinical legal education to 55 students from five law schools who volunteer each year and we regularly influence legislation, policy and practice through our research and law reform activities.”

Dan O’Connor, Andrew Crowe QC and the Honourable Robert Gotterson AO at the 20th anniversary founders’ event, June 2021.

LawRights’ joint directors Sue Garlick and Linda McPherson recently both identified that the highlight of 2021 was the 20th anniversary of LawRight’s official incorporation – as QPILCH.

“At the celebration (at Clayton Utz) on 8 June 2021, we traced our founders’ path and reflected on where it has led,” Ms Garlick and Ms McPherson said in their LawRight 2020-21 annual report message.

“Those of us connected to LawRight today – which still includes some pioneers – are grateful for the vision, drive and expertise which led us here.

“On that evening, we expressed that … what we have heard or been reminded of tonight was humble yet audacious, collaborative yet single-minded, joyous yet deeply serious. These are the beginnings that laid a path and set a culture for the LawRight of today.

“Over 20 years, 20,000 clients have had a substantial, productive and often transformative encounter with the justice system. We report on the stories and statistics but it is impossible to convey all the people across our profession who offer their expertise, good will and time to make it happen. They are a true echo of our founders.”

LawRight President the Honourable Roslyn Atkinson AO at the 20th anniversary founders’ event, June 2021.

And from its original conservative staff of one in 2001, LawRight’s current staff now exceeds 40.

Also, the number of member firms has increased significantly from the six founding 2001 firms – Allens, Ashurst, Clayton Utz, King & Wood Mallesons, McCullough Robertson and Minter Ellison.

That list now includes:

Member firms: Allens, Ashurst, Australian Workplace Lawyers, Baker McKenzie, Bartley Cohen Litigation Lawyers, Clayton Utz, Clyde & Co, Colin, Biggers & Paisley Pty Ltd, Cooper Grace Ward, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, DLA Piper Australia, Hall & Wilcox, Herbert Smith Freehills, Holding Redlich, HopgoodGanim, King & Wood Mallesons, K&L Gates, Lander & Rogers, McCullough Robertson, Minter Ellison, MurphySchmidt Solicitors, Piper Alderman, Shand Taylor Lawyer, Sparke Helmore, ILP Members, Barry.Nilsson, Maurice Blackburn, McInnes Wilson Lawyers, Sentry Law, Thornton Legal, Wotton & Kearney.

Current and former staff of HPLC Michael Carey, Cameron Lavery, Andrea de Smidt, Monica Taylor and Carla Klease.

Member barristers: LawRight Chair Roslyn Atkinson AO.

Senior Counsel: Andrew Crowe QC, David de Jersey QC, Douglas Savage QC, Dr Jacoba Brasch QC, Kylie Downes QC, Melanie Hindman QC, Nitra Kidson QC, Peter Franco QC, Peter Hastie QC, Rebecca Treston QC, Rowan Jackson QC.

Counsel: Adam Mason, Alexander McKinnon, Andrew Schriiffer, Andrew Stumer, Angela Rae, Angus O’Brien, Anthony Anderson, Anthony Reilly, Ben Gardiner, Benedict Coyne, Brent Reading, Bruce Wacker, Carla Klease, Catherine Chiang, Chris Curtis, Christopher George, Clare Dart, Danielle Tay

David Guttridge, David Thomae, Dr Kim Forrester, Dr Stephen Lee, Duncan Marckwald, Elliott Dalgleish, Emma Fitzgerald, Emma Hoiberg, Gavin Handran, Graham Dietz, Hamish Clift, Heath Berghofer, Iris Gajic-Pavlica, Jade Marr, Jane Menzies, Jason Dudley, Joshua Morris, Joshua Sproule

Judy Brien, Julene Winn, Justin Byrne, Justin Carter, Margaret Forrest, Mathew Jones, Maxwell Walker, Mitch Rawlings, Morgan Clarke, Nathan Laing, Nola Pearce, Paul O’Brien, Paula Morreau, Peter Somers, Philippa Ahern, Reimen Hii, Robert Gallo, Robert Quirk, Rowan Pack, Salwa Marsh, Samantha Amos, Sarah Spottiswood, Sean Russell, Sophie Gibson, Stephen Colditz, Steven Hogg, Stewart Webster, Toby Nielsen, Tom Pincus and William LeMass.

Associate members: Bond University Faculty of Law, Griffith University Law School, James Cook University School of Law, Queensland University of Technology Law School, The University of Queensland TC Beirne School of Law.

Specified members: Queensland Law Society, Bar Association of Queensland Inc, Legal Aid Queensland.

Government legal unit members: Crown Law and Department of Justice and Attorney-General.

Life members: Andrew Buchanan, Hugh Scott-Mackenzie, Joanne Rennick, Lucy Bretherton, Peter Rosengren, Robert Reed, Simon Cleary and Tony Woodyatt.

Share this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Search by keyword