THERE IS potential for serious shortfall in the number of lawyers willing to do legal aid work in the regional and rural areas of Queensland. The problem, the Legal Aid Congress 2004 heard recently, is that young people coming into law are less interested in providing this sort of work than their older colleagues.
Keynote speaker Angela Longo, president and CEO of Ontario Legal Aid in Canada, told an audience of more than 200 people at the Congress this month that a decline in the number of young lawyers willing to accept legal aid work in Canada presents a challenge for the leaders of legal aid commissions there, and internationally.
Canada is much like Australia in this respect, Longo said. And Legal Aid Queensland CEO John Hodgins confirmed that Canada’s experience had already been witnessed here, particularly in rural and regional areas.
“Our organisation, along with most legal aid commissions in Australia, face increased challenges in retaining and attracting legal firms to take on cases in areas outside of our major capital cities,” Hodgins said.
In Canada, research suggests that those lawyers who are committed to providing legal aid services are older, with an average age of 49, Longo said.
“At the same time, we have seen a sharp decline in the number of new lawyers willing to accept legal aid work,” she said.
This is a “mixed blessing”, Longo said. “On one hand it is encouraging that senior lawyers are doing legal aid work, but on the other we are faced with a continuous balancing act as we try to recruit new lawyers to ensure we are able to provide services into the future,” she said.
Similarly, as Australia’s population ages, there has been a trend towards older lawyers being the main providers of legal aid services. Hodgins said this is an issue we need to remedy if we are to achieve quality legal aid in this country, and to disadvantaged members of our community.
Legal Aid Queensland is now taking steps to address the problem, including implementing the Regional Solicitor Program, which teams law graduates with regional law firms and offering competitive salary rates.