Lawyers must get better at educating the public about the law
14 January 2020
The legal profession needs to get better at educating the public about how people can use the law to help them in times of need, according to the new President of the Law Society of SA, Tim White.
Tim said that a historically less than favourable perception of lawyers, combined with factors such as under-resourced legal assistance services, overly complex legislation, reforms that have restricted access to legal representation, and the expansion of other industries into services traditionally performed by qualified lawyers, have had an effect of dissuading people to engage lawyers, often to the public’s detriment.
However, Tim said these forces are precisely why people should get proper legal advice if they have a pressing legal problem, an unresolved dispute or feel they have been dealt with unjustly.
“My career has been devoted to helping vulnerable people find remedies for hardship they have suffered,” Tim said. “I have seen first-hand how the legal system, as daunting as it can sometimes be, can help people achieve justice, often against institutions with far more power.”
Some of the vulnerable people Tim has assisted include war veterans seeking compensation for physical and psychological injuries, breast cancer sufferers who were misdiagnosed by a South Australian breast cancer screening program, women pursing damages for faulty breast implants, and numerous motor and work injury victims.
--Read Tim White’s bio--
“I can’t tell you how many times a client who was initially reluctant about talking to a lawyer ended up being extremely grateful to have received sound legal advice and representation,” Tim said. “Especially in the area of personal injury, which has been hit with oppressive reforms that have significantly raised barriers for genuinely injured people to claim compensation.”
Mr White said that the legal profession will have an important role to play in agitating for the protection of legal rights in a year that is expected to herald major reforms in a number of areas, including family law, aged care, discrimination and, at a local level, criminal law.
“The justice system itself is undergoing a period of transformation with the establishment of a South Australian Court of Appeal, the introduction of a new electronic management system in the courts, the final stages of refurbishments to the Adelaide courts precinct, and the implementation of significant reforms to the major indictable criminal prosecution process” Mr White said.
“It is vital, amidst all this change, that age-old principles such as the right to a fair hearing, equality before the law, and judicial discretion are not diminished. The Law Society, on behalf of the profession, will speak out when any attempts are being made that have the potential to erode people’s rights and undermine the rule of law.”
The Law Society would like to remind the public that free legal advice is still available for victims of the recent fires in South Australia. To connect with a lawyer who can provide free legal assistance to victims of disasters, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For urgent legal advice and information, contact the Legal Services Commission’s free telephone advisory service from 9am to 4.30pm weekdays (excluding Public Holidays) on 1300 366 424.