If CLCs are to respond to the challenges of the next decade, we must strengthen what we already do well in providing holistic, person-centred service delivery, better utilise our existing capabilities and resources, and improve access to our services.
While the future is unpredictable, initial consultations have demonstrated that a key priority for CLCs is ensuring that CLCs can provide holistic and person-centred service delivery to all Victorians who are vulnerable and require legal assistance, particularly those with complex needs.
This section invites discussion on how CLCs can:
The growing body of research on legal need; the confluence of legal need and disadvantage; and the increasingly sophisticated understanding of what constitutes effective legal service delivery, affirms approaches to legal service provision developed in Australia by CLCs over the past 40 years.
In contrast to other types of legal services, CLCs tend to:
As such, CLCs are uniquely placed to assist their clients with pressing legal issues while affording wraparound service provision through referrals to other appropriate local community services. An example of this is the integrated services that have become a highly effective part of Victoria’s community service provision. In this way, CLCs form a valuable part of the community service network in Victoria and provide a crucial service for people who are experiencing disadvantage. The holistic, community-based nature of CLC services distinguish CLCs from other legal services, which do not tend to be as embedded in local communities and support networks.
Many CLC clients access community legal services to request assistance with urgent legal problems – such as an imminent eviction, family violence or unfair dismissal – but also present with a range of complex and intersecting needs, both legal and non-legal. CLCs are community-based, meaning that many have multidisciplinary teams and/or strong relationships with other local community services, such as health and substance dependency treatment clinics; financial planners; social workers; child, youth and family services; and the courts. Many CLC lawyers have recognised the need to develop expertise both in the relevant areas of law and in responding to the complex needs of people who are vulnerable to injustice.
If we assume that a key strength of CLCs is their ability to ensure holistic, person-centred service delivery, then there is an opportunity for CLCs to continue to build on that strength through efforts to learn ‘what works’ to successfully meet diverse needs and ensure that all CLCs across Victoria are supported to adopt best practice.
Integrated service models are one way in which CLCs provide holistic, person-centred services. What and how best practice models in integrated service delivery can be employed to enhance service provision across Victorian CLCs, through collaborative practice, effective referral, and partnership, are avenues to be explored. This would ensure that CLCs have a clear distinguishing model of service delivery that is recognised by government and by the community and meets a standard of excellence.
In turn, this holds the promise of improved funding for CLCs and access to services through increased visibility and recognition of what CLCs do and the high quality of services they provide./p>
It is essential that the CLC sector can demonstrate what CLCs do well, what they do distinctly from other types of legal assistance providers, and the important contribution they make to the accessibility and effectiveness of other services and public policy initiatives.
For example, 40 per cent of the work of the CLC sector is providing assistance and support to victim-survivors of family violence, and CLCs played a unique role in assisting with bushfire recovery in Victoria. These types of services could be scaled up and adopted by CLCs across Victoria to build on what individual CLCs already do well.
is generally accepted that the priority target client group for CLCs is people who are vulnerable, particularly those with complex needs. However, there is inconsistency across Victoria regarding who can receive assistance from which CLC, and what eligibility criteria must be met to receive assistance.
prioritising the most vulnerable for CLC assistance, it is likely that there will continue to be a growing ‘missing middle’ over the next decade of people who CLCs are unable to serve. If the trend of escalating community legal need and circumscribed funding continues it may further concentrate and skew service provision towards the most disadvantaged and most in need and leave those only marginally less disadvantaged unable to access justice. Where will that leave those who are experiencing only marginally less disadvantage but unable to afford a private practitioner?
the other hand, even if CLCs were to only provide services to the people who are the most vulnerable, some will still miss out on CLC services due to lack of capacity to assist. This raises questions about what role CLCs can and should play in facilitating and supporting the access to justice of Victorians across the broader community.
know that the people who are the most vulnerable are the least likely to recognise that they have a legal problem or to be aware of and understand CLC services. Therefore, the way in which CLCs increase access to services for people who are vulnerable is very specific. The current focus on integrated services is mostly aimed at increasing access to services for those specific clients who will be in touch with another service provider who can then engage in ‘issue spotting’ and link them in with legal assistance.
the other hand, if CLCs were not focused on only reaching this specific client cohort, there would be other methods that would need to be employed to increase understanding of legal problems and the need to seek CLC assistance.
A discussion needs to be had about who CLCs should prioritise assisting over the next decade, how best to carve out that niche, and then target and tailor service offerings accordingly.
While there are ways in which CLCs can continue to improve its advocacy for additional funding and resources, there are also ways that CLCs can better use existing capabilities and resources.
This section invites a discussion on how CLCs can:
Given that all CLCs engage in similar work, there is more that CLCs can do to continue to work together and learn from each other, to improve service delivery and access to services.
Collaborative service planning is an important part of this and can be utilised to ensure that all target clients across Victoria are covered by CLC services. For example, Victoria Legal Aid has piloted collaborative service planning in particular areas to demonstrate the benefits of collaboration and communication in providing joined-up services.
The Federation has also established Communities of Practice to create ongoing spaces for sector collaboration and to facilitate discussion about how to best provide joined-up service delivery across Victoria.
CLCs understand that many people within the community will not recognise when they have a legal problem. This lack of understanding means that people often do not seek help until it is too late and their legal problems have escalated. At the societal level, this means that lack of understanding about CLCs and lack of access to assistance reduces access to justice and increases disadvantage.
Despite the increase in integrated services across the sector to improve access to legal assistance for the most vulnerable, there are still numerous barriers to Victorians accessing CLC services. The Victorians who are the most vulnerable with complex needs are often the least likely to know that they have a legal problem or to have the means to access a CLC. In addition to this, many potential clients get stuck on a ‘referral roundabout’, are unable to meet eligibility criteria or the CLC does not have capacity to assist.
The lack of a centralised system for accessing information about CLCs and the services they provide, or a system to make referrals to an appropriate CLC and other appropriate services, means that often people struggle to navigate their way to the correct service and some fall through service gaps. The lack of readily available information about the types of assistance that CLCs provide also makes it difficult for other legal and community service providers and government to make appropriate referrals to CLCs.
It is difficult for people in the community to know which CLCs offer what types of legal assistance. Not all CLCs offer the same types of legal assistance – generalist CLCs differ in the types of legal matters they will assist with. CLCs often rely on intake processes, administrative staff and volunteers to handle these queries at a significant cost to resources.
The use of integrated services is a means to increase access for specific priority cohorts, however there are many other ways to increase access to services, such as improving CLC branding, advertising services, use of technology, improving referral pathways and triage, and generally increasing visibility and recognition in the community of CLCs and legal need.
A few ideas for how access to services could be improved are discussed below, including:
The Victorian Government’s Access to Justice Review considered the need for a primary entry point for legal information and assistance in Victoria. This would minimise duplication and gaps in legal information, coordinate the development and dissemination of legal information, work with CLCs to ‘up-scale’ existing resources, ensure that they meet best practice, and to track the quality, consistency, and currency of legal information.
Since the implementation of the review, the Victorian Government has focused on enhancing the resources of the primary entry point, through Victoria Legal Aid. It may arguably be more cost-effective for the government to ensure that existing resources are better utilised by directing potential clients to the most appropriate assistance and support. CLCs can play a role in facilitating access to the most appropriate service, and in fact this may be essential for some of the members of the community who are vulnerable and experiencing disadvantage. We know that people in need of legal assistance often embark on a search for someone to help them, and for people who are experiencing disadvantage it is often a desperate search in a time of crisis.
The review also made it clear that a primary entry point should not detract from the provision of targeted support for groups that are vulnerable and experiencing disadvantage. CLCs continue to do this in a number of ways, including through outreach services and other integrated services that target specific cohorts. It is important for governments to understand that targeted support for groups that are vulnerable and experiencing disadvantage provided by CLCs through outreach and other integrated services is an equally, if not more, important means of ensuring access to justice for those people.
These issues have led CLCs to develop innovative ways of ensuring access to their services, including through integrated services.
The CLC integrated services model is built on the understanding that people most in need are often the least likely to seek help directly. CLCs use integrated services, including partnerships with community doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, financial counsellors or teachers, to connect with and provide people with the legal assistance they need.
There is limited understanding of legal need, how legal problems impact on Victorians who are vulnerable and how they can exacerbate and escalate a person’s disadvantage over time. This lack of understanding leads to lack of community support for the work of CLCs, which in turn impacts on CLC funding.
Low levels of legal literacy in the community also reduce individuals’ ability to identify that they have a legal problem and therefore limits access to CLC services and increases adverse consequences of unmet legal need.
If CLCs increase community understanding and generate public support for CLCs, there are fears that it will only create demand that CLCs will not be able to meet. Yet, if unmet legal need is not better identified and understood there is less incentive for governments to fund CLCs.
Technology has an important role to play in improving access to justice in Victoria by improving CLC’s processes and increasing the reach and impact of services.
Many CLCs are currently operating with systems and technology that have fallen behind community expectations. Out of date infrastructure and business processes constrain efficiency, service quality, scalability, the ability to communicate, share and analyse information, and consequently also the ability to assess work and demonstrate impact.
There are opportunities for CLCs to make more use of technology to support and scale-up their work. The entire legal assistance sector could use digital solutions to streamline processes, improve accessibility for clients and referrers, and improve the way that CLCs connect with each other and with the justice system and service providers more broadly. Technological solutions are, however, expensive and implementation can be difficult.
CLCs can adopt new technology to change the way that they deliver services and connect to clients by engaging in ‘service delivery innovation’, where technology supports the delivery of legal assistance and connected services to clients, and ‘process innovation’, where CLCs enhance their own processes for providing legal assistance and connecting with clients.
Service delivery innovation is one way of tackling unmet legal need in Victoria and finding alternative approaches to delivering meaningful legal assistance on a large scale. Some CLCs have already been innovative in their approach to addressing unmet legal need through online platforms and tools. There is an opportunity to upscale the accessibility of legal information through technology.
Although the perception might be that people who are the most vulnerable with complex needs do not access services online, this can be expected to change over the next decade as technological advancement continues to impact every part of our lives. In addition to this, if CLCs choose to not only focus on increasing access to justice for that priority cohort, then engaging in service delivery innovation would be a useful way to increase access to justice for the ‘missing middle’.
Process innovation is about embracing new infrastructure and business processes to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. It involves using technological tools to streamline processes, integrate and improve systems.
An issue that can be addressed through process innovation is the lack of a comprehensive and up-to-date directory of CLC services online, which makes it difficult for potential clients and referrers to access CLC services. While Victoria Legal Aid has funding to administer Legal Help Online, this does not currently provide a comprehensive referral system into CLCs across Victoria. The Justice Navigation Working Group, led by Justice Connect, is engaging in ongoing work across the legal assistance sector to attempt to resolve this and other issues that impact access to justice in the technology space.