In 2010, Salvos Legal was born to fulfil the vision of The Salvation Army's founder William Booth. Seven years on, Salvos Legal has become one of our big success stories, not just for the Salvos, but for the community, Julie Houghton reports.
In 1890 The Salvation Army’s founder William Booth wrote, “There are no means in London…by which the poor and needy can obtain any legal assistance in the varied oppressions and difficulties from which they must, in consequence, of their poverty and associations, be continually suffering.”
Salvos Legal’s mission is to be a first-class legal service, providing the best service regardless of a person’s background or capacity to pay. It aims to provide justice funded by a competitively priced commercial legal service to the general public, so that it can fulfil Booth’s vision of providing pro bono services for those in need.
However, donating legal services, especially to refugees, doesn’t always win the Salvos friends in the high places.
In August, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton described lawyers doing free legal work for refugees as ‘unAustralian’. This comment immediately drew a backlash from the Australian Pro Bono Centre’s CEO, John Corker, who refuted Mr Dutton’s suggestion that lawyers were playing a game when acting for refugees.
“Lawyers undertake pro bono work out of a professional duty and dedication to the provision of access to justice for the disadvantaged—this work affirms the highest tradition of the legal profession,” he said.
Mr Corker went on to say that defending human rights and the rule of law is a key part of the pro bono work, singling out Salvos Legal for the huge amount of pro bono work it undertakes.
In the seven years since its inception, Salvos Legal has been kicking goals and has attracted praise for its work from external sources.
Salvos Legal’s core values are professional service, supporting the struggle for social justice for people whatever their circumstances, and always showing integrity. To bring home the legal bacon, Salvos Legal’s corporate work involves being trusted advisers to many large corporations on the ASX200 list, including the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Fairfax Media, Specialty Fashion group, and multinationals including leading global real estate services firm, Cushman & Wakefield. They also act for a range of federal and state government departments.
The pro bono work involves representing clients whose financial circumstances can’t stretch to legal representation. These clients often have language difficulties or mental health issues, a background of trauma or many other issues happening in their lives. There is a range of issues that include problems with family and children’s law, housing, human rights and refugee law, police matters and social security difficulties.
We will soon celebrate a major milestone of some 20,000 free humanitarian cases for clients in need who otherwise would not have been able to access a lawyer.
~ Luke Geary, Salvos Legal founder and outgoing managing partner
The mix obviously works, as Salvos Legal has won many awards for its services over the years, including the Boutique Law Firm of the Year at the Australian Law Awards in September.
Founder and outgoing managing partner, Luke Geary, is rightly proud of what Salvos Legal has achieved.
“I’m very proud of the growth and development of Salvos Legal and Salvos Legal Humanitarian. We will soon celebrate a major milestone of some 20,000 free humanitarian cases for clients in need who otherwise would not have been able to access a lawyer, but for the firm’s self-funding social enterprise model,” he said when accepting the recent award.
“This is such a spectacular achievement from the past seven years of operations and is testament to the partners and all who have worked with the firm throughout that time.”
Salvos Legal has also attracted some of the best and brightest young lawyers in the profession, including Queensland’s Charlotte Yellowlees and New South Wales’ Amy Burton, who have both been finalists in young lawyers’ awards in a high-flying field.
Charlotte came to the Salvos with a background in volunteering with the United Nations Youth Association and volunteer English teaching in a remote country town in Poland, before working as an Associate in the District Court of Queensland. Her time in Poland cemented her desire for a career dedicated to giving people a fair go.
Charlotte is a Senior Associate at the Goodna office, near Ipswich, where she mentors junior solicitors and clerks as well as managing her own caseload. She also manages stakeholder relationships and develops projects that contribute to the mission of the Salvos, such as the Asylum Seeker Clinic.
She is very clear about why her role is important.
“We are giving each individual who walks through our doors a fair go!” she tells Warcry.
“I am thrilled when the solicitors have positive outcomes for their clients and I can watch the solicitors learn and grow from their experiences with Salvos Legal Humanitarian.”
Originally from Melbourne, Amy Burton works closely with The Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership to end modern slavery and assist victims of human trafficking in Sydney. She also supervises the firm’s weekly Auburn Advice Bureau, a free walk-in legal service that sees around 40 clients a week. Amy describes her job as “my dream role”.
Charlotte was a finalist in the Pro Bono category of the Under 30 Lawyer of the Year award, and both Amy and Charlotte are finalists in the Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Awards—Pro Bono Lawyer.
Apart from individual lawyers being recognised for excellence by their peers, Salvos Legal has won the prestigious awards of Law Firm of the Year (1–100 lawyers) and Corporate Citizen Firm of the Year in the 2017 Australasian Law Awards.
Salvos Legal Marketing and Communications Manager Jennifer Parker feels that Salvos Legal has the right mix to achieve its aims.
“By being good at the commercial work we do, we can do more good in the community through Salvos Legal Humanitarian,” Jennifer said.
“The success of our business model—where commercial clients help fund our free legal services for disadvantaged and marginalised people—was a driving factor in this award,” Jennifer explained.
To put a human story to the accolades and awards, Amy Burton immediately thinks back to March this year.
“I successfully appealed the decision of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection not to grant an elderly Malaysian client a protection visa. Had she been forced to return home, she would have faced serious discrimination due to her severe mental illnesses. Only 1% of people from this country are successful with these matters so I was incredibly elated at the outcome,” Amy told Warcry.
There are many similar good news stories at Salvos Legal, putting into practice the passionate words of William Booth: “While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight—I’ll fight to the very end!”
Visit salvoslegal.com.au for more information and case studies.