Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

‘Having happy, satisfied and relaxed staff is calming and beneficial for clients’

The principal and founder of a not-for-profit legal service for veterans talks about the importance of specialised services for vulnerable groups and how incorporating generosity into a firm’s functioning leads to a workplace culture that is “calming and beneficial” for clients.

user iconJess Feyder 06 April 2023 SME Law
expand image

Lawyers Weekly spoke to Sarah Smith, founder of Duty First Legal Service, a community legal service for veterans, their families and war widows to try to reduce the rate of suicide and personal crisis among veterans and their dependents.

Ms Smith discussed why specialised services are so valuable for vulnerable groups, such as the veterans her firm serves.

“Vulnerable groups often have a unique set of needs specific to their vulnerability,” she explained. “They are usually more susceptible to mental health issues and/or physical disability or issues.”


“They require specialised services that are attuned to these needs and points of vulnerability in order to know best how to serve them.

“They are more likely to successfully engage with practitioners and services they feel understand, or seek to understand their situation and their needs,” she noted. 

“Veterans have a higher rate of suicide than the general population.” 

“There is not usually a single event that leads to the suicide but a combination of life events that may include unemployment, health issues, relationship breakdown, homelessness, isolation, drug or alcohol dependency or financial hardship.”

Ms Smith continued: “If these issues lead to legal problems, the vulnerable person often becomes very isolated or overwhelmed, especially if they cannot access the legal assistance that relieves them of this burden.”

“Addressing the legal issue and taking away some of that burden can often lead to the vulnerable person starting to feel some weight off their shoulders and like they can begin to see the light and reintegrate back into society.”

Ms Smith spoke in depth about why she decided to incorporate generosity into the functioning of her legal service.

“I am a big believer in a ‘life of service’ as well as the old saying that ‘what you give out, you will receive’,” she said. 

“When it comes to veterans, they are often some of the most humble, down-to-earth people.” 

“I can’t imagine volunteering to give my life for my country. However, that is what veterans do in order to protect us and our safety.”

“I see the value in helping and supporting those who served in the defence of our country and their families.”

Ms Smith discussed how the not-for-profit model of her firm supports its functioning, the quality of service it allows, and how it attracts legal talent.

“Our service is a not-for-profit model, and we try to do ‘door law’, aka whatever walks in the door,” she explained. 

“Most veterans who need legal assistance aren’t in the legal system or requiring help by choice. They have been forced into the system by someone else, or they need to be in the system for protection of themselves.”

“Many are on a pension for their life and are told they will never work again. 

“Their pension may be generous by Centrelink standards; however, they are significantly less than what that veteran would have earnt had they been able to continue work.” 

“Their pensions mean they are usually not eligible for Legal Aid; however, they can’t afford commercial solicitors. They fall into this ‘gap’ for legal services,” Ms Smith outlined. 

“Their mental health issues often mean they aren’t able to represent themselves effectively.” 

“We want to offer a full range of services so we can build trust with a veteran, and so we don’t have to handball the veteran to another service; we want to offer this to them in a way they can afford it; and we want to build trust with a veteran and their family so they know they can come to us through good and bad. 

“We want them to be able to come to us when they are buying a house, so they then feel comfortable coming to us if their marriage breaks down; we want them to come to us to do a will so that if anything happens to them, their affairs are in order.”

“Although we are not for profit, we try to provide the same quality of service that a commercial firm would give because we believe that veterans deserve this quality of service,” Ms Smith noted.

“The kinds of legal talent we attract are genuinely good, caring people who care about our clients and are respectful of their service. 

“Many of our lawyers have worked in corporate firms, or government and are attracted to us because they care about our cause and recognise that it is valuable and fulfilling work.”

“The culture in our workplace is very relaxed,” Ms Smith illuminated. 

“As a start-up, I cannot offer my employees all the perks and benefits that big firms can. But in return, I offer a very flexible, relaxed environment.”  

“There is no pressure of billing hours; there is no competition amongst staff, I allow staff the flexibility to work remotely or at the office as they see fit.”

“Most of my employees and volunteers give a lot more than they should, so in return, I provide them with the flexibility to shape their roles and take on the clients they would like to take on, and I believe that having happy, satisfied and relaxed staff is calming and beneficial for our clients.”  

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member for free today!