The Australian National University has just wrapped up a three-year project which aimed to break down the “intractable mistrust” of lawyers among rural and regional Australia.
ANU’s ‘Invisible Hurdles Project’ was rolled out over the course of three years in southern NSW and northern Victoria, targeting young and vulnerable people in rural and remote communities across the states.
The project saw professionals embed themselves into youth and health services, where they fought to clarify what was described as intractable mistrust of lawyers, and provide legal assistance to those who usually can’t be reached.
ANU College of Law Associate Professor Liz Curran, who led the research and evaluation of the project, said “critical to [the project’s] success was a long lead-in time to change perceptions that some lawyers are ‘arrogant’.”
“The most important thing we learnt was young people, the vulnerable and even professional services providers don’t trust lawyers and the legal system and trust takes time to build,” Dr Curran said.
“So it was critical the project was funded and able to run for three years, because it took two years to break down those barriers, and build trust and respect.
“In the final year of the project, when those relationships were strong and working smoothly, we saw a massive increase in referrals and consultations – 288 in the final 12 months of the project up from a handful in the first two years.”
By way of example, Dr Curran highlighted two case studies from those matters involved in the project.
“A young girl got help in taking out intervention orders on either side of the NSW /Victorian border because her support worker quickly accessed the lawyer when the young mum and her baby were in imminent danger from a violent former partner. Another young person was suicidal and felt she had nowhere to turn. After legal advice was quickly accessed through the partnership, the young person realised things were not so bleak and she had a number of options for help,” she explained.
“These sorts of problems are playing out across Australia and this model of integrated justice breaks down the silos so young people who would otherwise not gain legal help, can get it quickly, in a non-traumatic way as and when they need it whether in a crisis, or where they are about to make poorly-informed choices.”