Australia’s premier legal body has launched a digital initiative to assist regional, rural and remote firms in attracting more lawyers, which will ultimately see communities in these areas access more legal representation during “critical moments” of their lives.
The Law Council of Australia’s (LCA) “Digital Treechange” initiative seeks to attract more lawyers to practice outside of the country’s cities by enabling them to “trial” rural practice from their homes before committing to a permanent relocation.
Outside of the on-location visit during the trial period, the lawyer is encouraged to work remotely during their probation. LCA president Dr Jacoba Brasch QC said this allows them to check if they like the work, the people they will be working with, and learn about the community “before they have to make the major commitment”.
“Now more than ever, Australians have embraced the idea of working remotely. The Digital Treechange initiative is designed to bring together job candidates and rural firms seeking staff by utilising technology,” Ms Brasch said, adding she hopes it will be a “security blanket” that encourages lawyers to make the first step.
At the end of the trial period, the candidates and their potential employers can make a “fully-informed decision”, with the view of the lawyer relocating. LCA said creating this branch between rural firms and talent became a priority when it released the Rural, Regional and Remote Lawyers and Communities National Strategic Plan.
Dr Brasch said 29 per cent of the population lives outside major cities, but only 10 per cent of solicitors are practising in these areas. This means that around seven million people can only access 8,300 lawyers for advice and representation.
Limited private practitioners servicing rural, regional and remote communities also impacts the availability of pro bono and volunteer assistance.
“Access to justice is an inalienable right for all Australians, yet availability of legal services varies across the country. Where someone lives, our postcode, may impact on a person’s ability to access justice,” Dr Brasch added.
“Shortages of lawyers in these areas have resulted in residents being denied legal representation at critical moments in their lives. This could vary from something as simple as seeking legal advice, needing help with a will, through to requiring representation in a family, civil or criminal matter.”