Virtual legal aid a reality

Virtual legal aid a reality

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Sonia Soans, Julie Gossage, coordinator of Armadale Citizens Advice Bureau branch Kerrie Schilling and Dylan Legal Aid lawyer. Photograph – Aaron Van Rongen.

Legal Aid Western Australia is introducing five new virtual offices after the success of the existing 10 since opening.

The Legal Aid virtual office in Armadale has been operating out of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) branch since June 2020.

Armadale was chosen as part of the pilot program to monitor the need and effectiveness of virtual offices for Legal Aid.

CAB branches have the infrastructure required and highly trained volunteers to manage legal matters and client diversity.

Using face-to-face technology, Legal Aid’s virtual offices remotely connected clients who need advice to lawyer’s and volunteers.

Chief Executive Officer of the Citizens Advice Bureau of WA, Kathryn Lawrence said due to the success of service in Armadale and other pilot locations, Legal Aid is expanding to five new locations.

“Since June 2020 the Armadale branch has facilitated just under 150 legal advice appointments for Legal Aid,” she said.

“The areas of law covered by the virtual office include criminal law and family law.”

The five new virtual offices will open in January and early February 2021 in Busselton, Fremantle, Kwinana, Rockingham and Jurien Bay.

Legal Aid worked with local communities to establish each office, enabling people to book an appointment at their local service to use the technology.

This new initiative allows Legal Aid to support West Australians who face barriers of remoteness, mobility, disability and safety concerns.

“By removing some of the obstacles to accessing legal advice, CAB and Legal Aid can make a positive contribution to the client’s situation and our Armadale branch and volunteers have certainly done this,” Ms Lawrence said.

Legal Aid WA Solicitor Casey Johnston said the success of the first ten virtual offices showed the value of connecting people with a lawyer in a face-to-face setting.

“LAWA recognised that sadly, there were many vulnerable West Australians who were not able to access this due to them living remotely or being unable to travel to a city centre,” she said.

“Thanks to the first 10 virtual offices, we’ve been able to connect lawyers to 1,417 clients who otherwise would not have been able to access face to face legal advice at all due to various barriers.”

To make an appointment in Armadale, or any of CAB’s participating branches, Legal Aid can be contacted on 9261 6376.