New Zealand sees first pro-bono legal portal open

The New Zealand Ministry of Justice has funded NZ’s first pro-bono portal, connecting lawyers with people in need of legal assistance. Te Ara Ture is New Zealand’s first pro-bono legal service aimed at helping Kiwi’s who cannot normally afford to enlist the help of legal professionals. The software takes referrals from the community and through the portal matches legal matters with legal service providers.

So far 200 lawyers have signed up to receive referrals, but this number is expected to grow and the portal matures. Many of the referrals are coming through from community law centres as the portal grows in popularity.

Read the full story here.

Legal-aid bill assessment shake up in the UK paused by Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom has shelved plans to stop legal-aid bills from being court assessed and bring them inhouse. Under the current system legal-aid practitioners can choose to have bills between £2,500 and £25,000 assessed by the courts or the Legal Aid Agency. Under the new scheme the Ministry of Justice wanted to bring this process in-house. However, after consultation on the matter the Government has paused these plans until 2022, when they will revisit the issue as part of a consultation on a longer-term proposition.

Concerns were raised about the suitability of Legal Aid Agency staff to assess bills given their level of expertise, when previously these matters were dealt with by experienced costs judges. The Government is still intent on reforming the current hybrid system and stream lining the process.

Read the full story here.

Law Society of Scotland to manage new legal aid trainee fund

On the 3rd of June the Scottish Government launched a new £1 million fund to support legal aid traineeships in Scotland, the fund and application will be managed by the Law Society of Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government.

The fund will provide support for up to 40 new legal aid trainees, paying for 50% of their salaries, as well as their regulatory costs, National Insurance, Practising Certificate costs and Trainee CPD will all be half-funded by the grants.

To be eligible to apply for the funding, firms must have at least 20% of their business come from legal aid work and trainees hired as a result of grants must spend the majority of their time working on legal aid cases. Applications will be considered on a first-come-first-served basis.

Ken Dalling, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We have pushed hard for support for the legal aid sector and are pleased that the legal aid traineeship fund is now in place. It provides a much-needed boost for this hard-pressed, yet vital, part of the profession and is a step forward in addressing concerns over future sustainability. There are still serious issues to be resolved on how to ensure that the legal aid sector remains viable with ongoing investment by government at an appropriate level, yet the traineeship fund is a positive move and a move in the right direction. It is hugely important that the legal aid sector is not left behind and that it is an area of the law in which law graduates not only want to work but one in which they can thrive in the longer term. That is why we will be evaluating the impact of the fund on an ongoing basis. In will be important to assess its effectiveness at attracting trainees to the sector and retaining them as newly qualified solicitors.”

Read more about the fund here, or read the Scottish government’s press release here. 

State Bar of California provides grants to twenty legal services organizations to hire provisionally licensed lawyers

The State Bar of California has selected the first 20 legal services organizations which will receive grants to hire provisionally licensed lawyers (PLLs) in 2021–2022. The grant-giving programme is designed to allow legal aid organisations to augment their staff, and is part of the Bar’s ongoing effort to address unmet legal need amongst low-income Californians, improving access to justice. The grant is funded by legislation that added an optional $5 donation, as part of the annual California attorney licensing fees.

Contributions are currently projected to total about $1.4 million in 2021–2022, and the awardees were selected by the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission as part of a competitive selection process. The average award is for 12 to 13 months. Of the PLLs to be hired, 17 will collectively serve 43 California counties, at least 30 of which are rural or have relatively few legal aid resources. Three PLLs will support services offered statewide. The majority are expected to help meet legal needs in rural areas and provide legal services related to COVID-19 or natural disasters.

The PLL programme was approved by the California Supreme Court in July 2020 in response to the pandemic, the provisional licensure program provides a limited license to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney. The program enabled recent law graduates to begin practice without taking a bar exam. To date, nearly 850 provisionally licensed lawyers have been approved for the program, which will terminate June 1, 2022, unless extended by the Court.

Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the State Bar has said.“These grants provide a powerful dual benefit: expanding the reach of these legal aid organizations when the needs are greater than ever and offering meaningful public interest jobs to new provisionally licensed lawyers. We are grateful to the thousands of licensees whose contributions made these grants possible.”

Read more about the programme and view all the organisations who received an award here. 

Law Society of New South Wales launches free legal assistance to those impacted by bushfires

The Law Society of New South Wales, in partnership with Legal Aid NSW, community legal centres,  Justice Connect and the NSW Bar Association has launched the NSW Government’s Disaster Response Legal Service, which will provide free legal assistance to those affected by the tragic bushfires in NSW.

Richard Harvey, the President of the Law Society said: “In this time of great tragedy, we need to do all we can, as members of the NSW community and the legal profession, to assist those impacted by the bushfires who have lost so much.”

The Law Society’s statement also noted that many solicitors in the region may have been affected by the fires, and noted that the Law Society in partnership with Lawcover could assist in:

  • Trust accounting;
  • Professional support for loss of files; and
  • Professional support in costs, ethics and regulatory compliance for any affected legal practice, as well as any wellbeing issues that may arise.

The President’s full statement is available here. Full information about the response efforts is available here.