Simon Moran, senior manager in financial services/credit enforcement at ASIC, recently spoke at panel discussion celebrating 40 years of Community Legal Centres in NSW, held by CLCNSW.
“I think legal centres, through advocacy but also through the individuals working there and then moving on, have changed places like the Legal Aid Commission, ASIC and other organisations as well,” he said.
“That ethos has permeated through government and also pro bono work that firms undertake. CLCs have developed over time and its influences have gone well beyond just the clients that come in the door.”
Speaking at the panel discussion, Clare Petre reflected on the establishment of the first CLC in NSW, Redfern Legal Centre in 1977, of which she became the first full-time worker.
“The academics and students from the University of NSW who established Redfern Legal Centre didn’t have a grand strategic plan,” Ms Petre said.
“All they knew was that they wanted to deliver a legal service that was new and different. Community based, shop front, holistic and directed at people who would otherwise miss out on essential legal advice and assistance.”
They were focused on casework and helping the lives of disadvantaged individuals, before starting to advocate for legal reform to try to change the bigger picture.
Mr Moran started his career as a student volunteer at Redfern Legal Centre in 1990 before starting work at Campbelltown Legal Centre in 1995 and then PIAC in 1999.
“Over the period that I was working in legal centres, I observed a sense of evolution of legal centres from being iconoclasts to becoming more of an institution and more part of the legal fabric,” he said.
While this is sometimes referred to as the 'professionalisation' of CLCs, Mr Moran disagreed. “I think we've always been professional, we've always been quality lawyers providing quality services but it was more working out how to link up better with other services to make our footprint bigger,” he said.
“We weren’t just fixing individual problems but we were looking at how to make structural change, how to change the law, how to get funding for services so that it wasn’t just about solving an individual, it was actually about changing the world.”
Over time, Mr Moran said the change went beyond CLCs and began to affect other areas of the industry.
“The organisation I now work in, it has taken some of those ideas that legal centres focused on, like doing policy work, making sure that we had structural change and taking test cases.”
CLCNSW chairman Nassim Arrage also spoke at the event, suggesting community services have retained their commitment to social justice.
“Although CLCs are now quite institutionalised and quite bureaucratic, at their core values they remain committed to community-based approaches to delivering legal services,” he said.
“There is still a lot of social injustice, and for me CLCs are about creating the structural change or at least trying to hold government to account to make sure that the world is a better place, and sadly there are a lot of things to fight.”