2020: Crisis catalysing progress

23 Dec 2020

This year has been unlike any other. Bushfires, a global pandemic and recession have changed life as we knew it and have led to rising demand for legal help. Environmental destruction, lockdown measures, and community health concerns have disrupted traditional service-delivery models and across the year we have made rapid shifts to keep our services running.

Despite the challenges, we have adapted our services, provided more services than ever before, continued to innovate and advocated for system-level changes to address drivers of legal need.

It’s been a big year for all of us, and we wanted to share some highlights with you. 

The year in review

Our investment into a new CRM, cloud-based systems, and the success of our Gateway Project products meant that we were able to keep all our services running while operating remotely. We were even able to provide new and targeted support where it was needed the most.

Our Gateway Project products helped us deliver a scaled-up response to the bushfires. We coordinated the pro bono response to the bushfires across Victoria and NSW, adding 110 new law firms offering to help their communities via our Pro Bono Portal.

In the new year, we will run a pilot providing a group of community legal centres in Victoria and New South Wales with direct access to our Pro Bono Portal, so that they can connect efficiently with law firms without requiring Justice Connect’s intermediation.

After a combined advocacy effort and launch of the #MakeSocialHousingWork blueprint, the Victorian Government made a commitment to build 12,000 new units of public and community housing.

Justice Connect, alongside leaders in the not-for-profit sector, advocated to #FixFundraising across 2020. In response, the Federal government announced that it will put fundraising law reform on the National Federation Reform Council agenda.

Lawyers from our member firms are involved in our cutting-edge AI development project. They are helping to train an artificial intelligence natural language processor to diagnose legal problems based on the language people naturally use when looking for legal help.

We received the HESTA Excellence Award for Outstanding Community Services Organisation, and our Head of Innovation and Engagement, Kate Fazio, received a Telstra Business Women’s Award (For Purpose, Victoria).

We responded to growing demand for online legal information by rolling out new resources and a targeted digital consumer outreach program across a range of channels. As a result, views of our self-help resources for individuals more than tripled.

We launched our new online legal clinic Justice Connect Answers. We can now provide quick, confidential legal advice online in response to questions on a wide range of issues – all powered by lawyers in our pro bono network.

We undertook consumer research and published a report on how people find and use online legal resources. Barriers for the ‘missing majority’ are more likely due to poorly designed legal information rather than a lack of digital or legal capability.

We ran training for consumers, professionals and Justice Connect members to help improve the legal ecosystem. Our Not-for-profit Law program ran our largest training program which helped thousands of community organisations understand the laws that affect their operations.

We launched innovative digital self-help tools to support people navigating the legal system, including Dear Landlord for Victorian renters, and our Victorian Rules Tool for incorporated associations.

We’re excited to launch into 2021 with a new strategy in place in which we clearly commit to responding to high levels of unmet legal need by designing and delivering high impact interventions to increase access to legal support and progress social justice.

Thank-you to our supporters and partners

We cannot do all of this work without the support from our member firms, funders and supporters, volunteers, service-delivery and advocacy partners, and the clients and consumers that participated in our research and service design. This year especially, we are grateful for the huge support that we have received and the trust placed in us by the communities we work with.

The compounding crises of 2020 will mean that the increased demand for legal help in the community will continue to rise. You can support our work by making a contribution today.