Meet a lawyer who joined the pro bono bushfire response

19 May 2020

Ella Alexander joined Justice Connect on secondment after seeing the devastating impacts of the bushfires in New South Wales and Victoria. This National Pro Bono Day, we’re celebrating lawyers like Ella who use their expertise to help communities in times of crisis.

When bushfires devastated New South Wales and Victoria earlier this year, Justice Connect worked closely with legal service organisations to coordinate a pro bono response to meet rising legal need. We turned to our network of lawyers for help and the result was phenomenal. Over 100 firms signed up to our Pro Bono Portal to help provide free help to people impacted by the bushfires. 

One of the lawyers who rose up to the challenge was Pro Bono Senior Associate at Makinson d’Apice Lawyers, Ella Alexander.

Ella had seen the devastation bushfires were having on communities in Victoria and New South Wales, and knew she needed to help. “My mum lives in a bushfire-affected area. We spent the whole summer on edge. Thankfully they missed her — but only just. The issue felt very close to home.”

Eager to help, Ella attended a pro bono response meeting, where she met Brendan Lacota from our Public Interest Law team.

“I’d already spoken to my supervisor about going on secondment. The firm supported me to go wherever I would be most useful.”

Shortly afterwards, Brendan asked Ella to join Justice Connect’s pro bono response to the bushfires. She accepted, and joined our team as the dedicated bushfire response lawyer. In her role, she was able to use her expertise to help people impacted by bushfires and refer them to one of the 110 law firms that had agreed to help.

Free help can prevent legal problems from escalating

Ella Alexander wanted to be a pro bono lawyer ever since she was a child. Seeing the positive impact that free legal help could have on families was what motivated her to study law in the first place.

“Legal problems are so pivotal in people’s lives,” she said. Free legal help can prevent a smaller issue from spiralling into something catastrophic”.

This is particularly challenging for people in regional communities who are often unable to find the right help for their legal problem. When Ella couldn’t find the expertise amongst local law firms, she sought out larger law firms with the right specialisation using the Pro Bono Portal.

“I am extremely happy with the services provided,” said one client. “It helps relieve some of the stress knowing that we can get some help with this horrible situation.”

Pro bono lawyers can identify and challenge systemic issues

Providing support to individual clients is crucial in times of crisis. But integral to Justice Connect’s pro bono response to the bushfires was the capability to scale that impact.

“We have been able to identify systemic issues — like insurance-related issues — and use our learnings to write submissions to effect change. That’s where Justice Connect is really exceptional: you need someone with oversight.”

Our Public Interest Law team was able to take those learnings to the Royal Commission into bushfires. We were also able to identify gaps in which legal resources were available, and work with our network to build those resources for the people who needed them.

Ella was heartened by how rapidly the legal community has responded to need during the disaster. “It’s amazing how quickly [the matters] have been picked up. Some firms have been outstanding and taken huge numbers of referrals. Holding Redlich and Norton Rose Fulbright are two firms that have made an incredible contribution.”

Pro bono lawyers like Ella are critical to providing support to people during times of crisis. Now, Ella is using her expertise to support people impacted by COVID-19.

Justice Conect’s commitment to the power of pro bono, and to providing dignity for those left behind by the legal system, attracts excellence from all corners. Join us by becoming a member.