What is the Keeping Them Honest project?

This blog is a record of  the research, interviews, and discussions to be undertaken as part of the Community Legal Centre (CLC) Fellowship 2014/15. The project aims to review and reflect on how CLCs carry out strategic casework focused on improving business and government systems (particularly with respect to vulnerable groups).

What is the CLC Fellowship?

The Fellowship is an annual grant provided by the Victoria Law Foundation to a community lawyer to research an issue relevant to the CLC sector and recommend changes that will affect their clients and the broader Victorian community.

A brief outline of the project

My Fellowship project is titled “Keeping Them Honest: How Community Legal Centres Can Better Use Strategic Casework to Enhance Institutional Accountability“. I use the term “strategic casework” to refer to the practice of running legal cases with the aim of generating a broader change to the law, policy or society – either through a success in court, or by bringing to light an injustice. I use the term “casework” to intentionally broaden the scope of the project beyond litigation, and to include cases run for other purposes including negotiation, regulator complaint, or alternative dispute resolution scheme complaint.

Given limited resources and high levels of unmet legal need among disadvantaged communities, cases that achieve systemic outcomes rather than an outcome for only a single client can be extremely valuable to the community legal sector. However, there is often little time to reflect on how we are currently running such cases, and what more could be done. With this in mind, the aim of my Fellowship project is to investigate two broad questions: firstly, how do CLCs currently run strategic casework aimed at improving business and government accountability?Secondly, how can we draw on the successes and failures of that current practice to do this better?

Through the project, I aim to review current CLC strategic casework practice in Australia and internationally, particularly that aimed at improving institutional accountability, and reflect on what makes strategic casework most effective. My project will look specifically at civil cases, such as those relating to housing, welfare, consumer, debt, police accountability, and environment and planning disputes.

I hope to do this by meeting with Victorian CLC lawyers and other relevant stakeholders, and, in some instances, by reviewing case files and other strategic documents. I will also travel to organisations across Australia, and internationally to South Africa, Canada, the USA and the UK, to discuss how legal centres outside of Victoria structure and run strategic casework. The bulk of the research and discussions will take place between January and end of April 2015. Out of this I will produce a written review of current practice, together with a practical, best practice framework for strategic casework aimed at inspiring a community of practice within the CLC sector. La Trobe University will act as the host of my project.

Who am I?

My name is Agata Wierzbowski. I am a lawyer at the Consumer Action Law Centre, a campaign-focused consumer advocacy organisation based in Melbourne, Australia. Consumer Action provides, among other things, free legal advice to consumers and community workers, and pursues litigation on behalf of vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers across Victoria. My work largely involves running litigation and legal casework in the areas of general contract, fair trading, credit and debt, utilities, bankruptcy and insurance law. I have a long-standing interest in innovative community lawyering and finding effective solutions to social justice issues. I completed my Masters in Law (Public & International Law) at the University of Melbourne in 2013, and I have volunteered with many CLCs across the sector, including Women’s Legal Service and Mental Health Legal Service.

How to keep up to date or find out more

You can keep up to date with the progress of the project by subscribing to this blog and/or following me on Twitter @AgataCALC. You are also welcome to contact me direct by email at agata@keepingthemhonestblog.com or by calling +61 (0) 431 975 770.

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