The Illawarra Legal Centre can count more than 35,574 reasons the community is grateful for its hard work.
That’s the number of clients the non-profit ILC has helped over its 30 years.
Since being founded out of the demand to help women with employment issues and equal pay at the steelworks, the ILC has had 541 volunteers, and has given free legal advice on 60,092 occasions. Last year 7106 people alone accessed the services.
''We wouldn’t be doing our job if we weren’t pointing out where there are injustices.''
The Warrawong-based ILC’s work often deals with the most disadvantaged people in the community. Co-ordinator Truda Gray said since securing funding 30 years ago, the ILC has sprouted a tenancy service, welfare rights service, child support service, financial counselling, community legal education arm and a chidren’s court assistance scheme.
Highlighting the lack of access to the legal system for many, Ms Gray said often the first to learn of someone’s legal problems is a doctor.
“We’ve found that many people ask their doctor if they’ve got a legal problem, rather than going to a lawyer,” she said. “So we’re actually trying to work with doctors. We’ve developed a thing called a legal health check.
“But people often don’t know they’ve got a legal problem either. They’ve got a tenancy problem, or a problem with their landlord, but they don’t know there’s a legal solution. A lot of people who come to us with one issue, we find they’ve got five other legal problems tangling their lives up.”
Through its time, six volunteer solicitors have been there for 30 years: Jim Isabella, Kerry Kyriakoudes, Mick Davies, Robert Davidson and Michael McGrath, who was among the original founders. And Linda Wright’s years as a lawyer plus board member add up to more than 40.
Battles for funding are constant. And then there’s the attempt to gag legal centres from speaking out on law reform issues – using funding threats. But staying quiet defeats the purpose.
“The thing we’re not allowed to do is talk to the media, or use any of the media – exactly as I’m doing right now,” Ms Gray said.
“They don’t want us to but we do. We wouldn’t be doing our job if we weren’t pointing out where there are injustices, and pointing out how to improve them.
“Community legal centres are set up to work at improving access to justice. And if it’s a systemic block, that’s where we’ve got to work.”