The Salvation Army is hoping to plug the gaps left by Australia's under-funded legal aid agencies by establishing its own commercial law firms to fund its humanitarian work.
The initiative, envisaged by former corporate partner turned Salvation Army lawyer Luke Geary, is set to revolutionise the way legal services are provided to the poor and marginalised.
Geary, who has been operating the Salvation Army's Courtyard Legal - a pro bono legal service in Auburn and Parramatta - for the past five years, decided that in order to properly ensure the continuation of services to those in need, he needed to create a self-sufficient practice.
"I am very conscious about not taking money away from legal aid or other community legal centres," Geary told Lawyers Weekly.
"My motivation was to make sure that whenever we got money it didn't come out of someone else's intended allocation. The only way I could think of doing that was by taking money from the community in terms of paid work."
As such, plans are in place to open three new commercial firms - branded as Salvos Legal - in Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra which will offer property and transactional services for paying clients.
One hundred per cent of the three firms' profits - minus the market-rate salaries of the legal staff - will go to funding a full-time team of non-property lawyers which will focus on criminal, family, housing, welfare, debt, refugee and migration cases.
"The capacity for outreach to the victims of injustice by Salvos Legal will far exceed the work that could ever be possible for a service ... such as Courtyard Legal, which relies solely on the generosity of its volunteers and sponsors," said Geary.
Geary is confident that the initiative will be successful and believes this type of transaction will appeal to members of the community who have a social conscience as well as a need for transactional commercial legal services.
"The public [will] not only get the benefit of high quality legal services but also would know that the money they paid for those legal services [goes] to benefit the firm's humanitarian team to fight for the poor, instead of the partner's profits," he said.
With a premises secured near Sydney's Central Station, and plans underway to secure a property partner to head-up the commercial team, Geary is hoping to have the Sydney firm up and running by December this year.
And Geary hopes that other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) might follow suit.
"It would be a great solution to the gap in the provision of legal services if we had other big NGOs able to do this," he said.
"The community would really be able to prop up its own shortcomings without it costing anything, so it would be wonderful if others could jump on board."
- Claire Chaffey