Corrs Chambers Westgarth and Estrin Saul Lawyers were the inaugural winners of the ‘commercial law firm’ category in WA’s annual community service law awards.
Independent children's lawyer Julia Johnston won the individual award for decades of work as a legal counsel and adviser to non-profit legal services and refuges, including with Wanslea Family Services.
The not-for-profit award was shared between the Citizens Advice Bureau of WA and the Consumer Credit Legal Service.
Attorney General John Quigley said the awards highlighted the importance of pro bono and community legal services in making the justice system fair and more equitable.
"The work being done by these firms and lawyers makes a huge difference in ensuring that vulnerable people can access the legal advice and representation that they need,” he said.
"Individual award winner Julia Johnston has devoted much of a 40-year career to protecting children at risk.
“The time she has spent helping not-for-profit groups is just as laudable.
"Both the Citizens Advice Bureau of WA and the Consumer Credit Legal Service have been honoured for the invaluable legal work they do in the community.”
Mr Quigley said Corrs and migration specialist Estrin Saul had set sterling examples of giving back to the community through thousands of hours of pro bono work.
Corrs said its Perth office had undertaken pro bono work for WA organisations, including the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA, Law Access, and the Employment Law Centre.
Pro bono partner Spencer Flay said the legal system depends on access to justice for all.
“Corrs is humbled to be recognised for our contribution towards ensuring access to justice for some of the most marginalised in our community,” Mr Flay said.
“We are enormously grateful for the long and deep relationships we have built with the ALSWA, Law Access and the many community legal centres and individuals with whom we work across WA, and look forward to continuing that work in the years to come.”
Consumer Credit Legal Service managing solicitor Gemma Mitchell said her organisation opened 80 case files last financial year to assist people in their disputes with banks and other credit providers.
CCLSWA provided two case studies to illustrate the nature of its work.
CASE STUDY 1
CCLSWA helped a young professional woman who had a lot of credit card debt and was also signed up to a very expensive home loan. Her parents were duped into giving a guarantee. She had to take on a second job to try and keep on top of her repayments. The severe stress of this sent her into a debt spiral, on top of this she was in a violent relationship. She became very unwell. Unable to work she had to apply for Centrelink. She was facing repossession of her home and her parents were also likely to lose their family home. CCLSWA successfully negotiated for her to surrender her property without having to repay any shortfall debt after the property was sold and the bank also waived the debt against her parents meaning they could keep the family home. In total, CCLSWA achieved waivers of almost $185,000 debt, for the home loan and multiple credit cards, giving her financial freedom to start again.
CASE STUDY 2
CCLSWA also assisted an 80-year-old widow, who would have become bankrupt and homeless without our help. She was given a home loan when aged 70 that she could never have afforded. She lived in an apartment and owed almost $100,000 in strata fees. The strata company had commenced bankruptcy proceedings against her. CCLSWA assisted her to claim a refund of $115,000 in interest, fees and charges from her lender. We also negotiated for the lender to pay her strata fees to avoid her becoming bankrupt. She still cannot afford to live in the property and so will have to sell. However, our help has meant she has time to sell and more control over the sales process. She may be able to use the equity to find somewhere else to live.