Genesis lawyers put clients first

REBECCA Collins is a regular face at the Genesis Legal Clinic, where she offers pro bono family and criminal law advice to some of Perth's least fortunate people.

One of 14 solicitors from corporate law firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques to work at the not-for-profit Beaufort Street clinic, Ms Collins says her Mondays at Genesis are helping her become a "well-rounded" practitioner.

Launched in March 2007, the Genesis Legal Clinic is a not-for-profit service for homeless and disadvantaged people seeking legal advice, medical assistance, life skills development, counselling, or Centrelink information.

Mallesons, this year's National Law Firm of the Year, sends two lawyers to Genesis each week.

The legal team helps those facing criminal charges, criminal injuries compensation, family law disputes, and welfare issues including custody disputes, tenancy problems and debt issues.

Ms Collins said it had been a worthwhile experience.

"I get a real buzz going down to Genesis and speaking with someone and by the end of the afternoon feeling like you've had some sort of impact on another person's life, especially when they're in such diabolical circumstances," Ms Collins told WA Business News.

"It kind of puts things in context. I find it really rewarding. The other thing is that it gets you to become a well-rounded lawyer, and not just doing corporate law.

"You know, seeing people who are having family issues, and how all these consequences for somebody may have arisen from drug abuse or a mental health issue.

"There's a very human aspect. Working in a law firm, especially a corporate law firm, it can be anonymous in some ways because you are always acting for corporations.

"I guess in that way, that is intellectually stimulating, but this is really emotionally stimulating.

"The clients are so different to what I'm used to in corporate law, so when we're dealing with a client at Mallesons, they're usually fairly sophisticated, can clearly articulate their point, but just having that sociability helps to build up a relationship."

The Mallesons lawyers work closely with solicitors from the Southern Communities Advocacy and Legal Education Service (Scales), who act as supervisors and guide them on the advice they dispense regarding family or criminal matters.

Scales began in 1997 as an initiative of community groups from Rockingham and Kwinana and the Murdoch University School of Law.

It aims to provide a free service to the community as well as quality practical legal education to Murdoch University law students.

"So we got Scales involved so they could be supervisors, because obviously at Mallesons we specialise in commercial and corporate law, and criminal law and family law are the types of law that you need at the clinic," Ms Collins said.

"We try and work out what the solution to the problem is but we always have to speak to the supervisor and say, 'this is what the person has come in and asked, we think this is the advice we should be giving them, is that right'?

"For most people who have gone through law school it is compulsory that you do criminal law. Some people have done family law and often there are programs at law school like the Scales program at Murdoch, so many students have done free community legal services before.

"We also run training clinics, so we have people from Scales come in and they train us up on tenancy law, or criminal law issues, or things like that."

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