Getting Free Legal Advice
Working in a community legal centre, I've been confronted by a huge range of issues that need urgent legal advice. Unfortunately, as we all know, private lawyers are expensive and can sometimes simply be out of reach for many people in our community. Part of the experience at my legal centre has been to discover the resources available to help these people deal with their legal problems, ranging from minor advice to full representation in court. It's dawned on me that there are actually heaps of resources available all over Australia.
But with so many options, it's hard to know where to start or where to go. So just in case any of you come across unfortunate circumstances, or know of someone who does, here is a short list of resources available to help you get some free legal advice.
The best place to start is probably your local community legal centre (CLC). You can find your nearest CLC by checking out the National Association of Community Legal Centres website.
It's always a good idea to check what areas of law they practice and who their services are aimed at before calling up. CLCs are run by volunteer solicitors who see clients by appointment, so make sure you get onto them sooner rather than later. If they can't help you, they will always be able to direct you to an alternative source of advice.
Legal Aid is one of the best options. Each state website contains heaps of fact and info sheets that might help you with your issue. They cover heaps of problems, like what happens in court if you're ordered to attend, paying (or not paying) fines, the debt and collection process, AVOs, what happens if your relationship ends, and it even provides divorce packages (kind of like DIY divorce!). In NSW, they have a free 20-minute drop-in service for criminal and civil matters (for family law you'll need an appointment). It never hurts to call up either!
The only problem with Legal Aid is that if you need ongoing advice, you'll be subject to a strict eligibility test. I recently attended a training session at Legal Aid which explained these tests you need to pass before they give you a grant (full legal advice), and I must say, it's hard to pass! This service is not entirely free; there is an initial payment of about $70, and if your case is successful and you receive considerable payments, they will ask you to pay some of the costs associated with your matter. Then it's the four tests; jurisdiction (criminal, civil and family law), means test (how much you earn and what your assets are worth), merits test (reasonable prospect of success) and, the ability to fund the case test (which is out of your control and depends on how much the government funds them each year). Each state has a slightly different variation of these tests, but you can check out the appropriate website for more info and some tools to help you calculate whether you're eligible. And just a little insider tip, make sure your Facebook is clean, they like to stalk to verify your application!
While CLCs and Legal Aid are the best places to get some free advice, there are so many other specialist services out there! There are services for indigenous Australians, young people, immigrants, people with a disability, and more. Here's a list of just of state and territory Legal Aid organisations, CLCs and other legal resources to help you on your way:
Australian Capital Territory
New South Wales
LawAccess NSW (general)
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