Alternative Law Journal
Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) provides legal services to an area covering the whole of the Mornington Peninsula Shire and the cities of Casey, Frankston, Kingston and Glen Eira. It is an enormous area with a potential client base of around 750,000 people. We remain one of the few legal centres in Victoria to provide an extensive outreach program.
The prime concern of the outreach program is to provide free legal advice to those clients who by reason of isolation, disability, poverty or age would otherwise not have access to free legal advice and casework services. Solicitors providing our outreach programs continue to witness an increasing demand for these services. At PCLC we provide follow-up casework on approximately 20-30% of our advice work.
Outreach work demands flexibility and is definitely not a job for someone who cannot envisage life without all mod cons. It needs to be managed often without telephone or photocopier, sometimes without a desk (try leaning over a coffee table for six hours!), and at one particular location we are encouraged to provide our own toilet paper, tissues and Tim Tams. It is however a tremendously satisfying job with lots of variety and plenty of client contact, and is perfect for someone who enjoys driving.
Each location has its own character and particular issues. One area with large numbers of retired people presents with many problems between neighbours, while at another — on a new housing estate — people are far too busy surviving to bother with that. Clients from the housing estate present with many issues around marital separation and debt problems.
Outreach work is especially important because of the lack of access to legal advice for people in rural areas. Country areas also produce some unusual matters. A memorable case was one in which a client was being sued for the death of her neighbour’s ostrich. Apparently the ostrich had developed stress-related gallstones after being barked at by our client’s dog. I spent a fascinating morning looking over ostrich autopsies!*
But clients in rural areas are not the only group to whom we provide a service. Being on the edge of the greater Melbourne area we are well placed to service outer urban areas that lack the facilities that tend to be taken for granted by inner city dwellers. Lack of adequate transport in these areas means that it is not unusual to give an elderly client a lift home or to make a home visit where a client is seriously ill.
Perhaps the main drawback of outreach work is the lack of opportunity to consult with colleagues and limited time available for appearances. None of those dreamy Brunswick Street lunches for us! It is much more likely to be a sandwich on the run and vending machine coffee, whose only redeeming features are that it is hot and wet. Talks to schools and community groups are a highlight and some of the agencies provide those wonderful country style morning teas.
Despite all the problems it is still a job to be recommended especially on those days when the sun is shining and you decide to take the road along the Mount Martha cliffs instead of the freeway and have lunch on the beach at Dromana instead of a sweaty café in William Street (Melbourne). Are you jealous?
[*Editor’s note: I had to ask and yes, the ostrich lady won her case (or at least it was withdrawn) when the litigant was made aware that she had no assets and was on a pension.]
[*] Victoria Mullings is Principal Solicitor, Bentleigh Branch, Peninsula Community Legal Centre.
© 2001 Victoria Mullings