Early commuters might mistake us for an oversized morning work-out group, but as it happens, this sea of lawyers in lycra is here for the 2017 Law Access Walk for Justice. A 350-strong crowd is gathered at the Perth foreshore to walk 4.4 kilometres to raise money for Law Access — a charity referral service that matches people in legal need with lawyers willing to do pro-bono work.
I have arrived slightly late, right in the middle of the opening address. Even though I can’t make out exactly what’s being said (the loudspeaker doesn’t quite cut through the sound of the attendees jostling in the morning chill), I’m sure the opening words inject some much needed motivation to the soon-to-be walkers, both to assuage fears over the Federal government’s wavering support for charitable legal services, and to get legs moving on a brisk morning (for those not in the know, the May budget reversed a decision in 2016 to cut Federal funding to community legal centres, though the notably politically active Environmental Defenders Office has been barred from receiving funding since 2014).
The Walk for Justice group, comprised of lawyers, law students and academics alike, embarks from the Perth Bell Tower and promptly takes over both lanes of the walking path. After a few kilometers we warm up, invigorated by spirited visions of social justice, light exercise and a hot espresso (the drink of choice for many lawyers). The effect of Law Access’ work is itself pretty heart-warming: last year, Law Access assessed 460 applications from people seeking legal help and provided referrals to 151, generating one and a half million dollars worth of pro-bono legal services. A solid effort from a profession that usually charges by the minute.
The Walk so far has managed to raise over $27,000 for Law Access— an impressive sum for a lap-a-thon style event—which I hope is enough to keep Law Access going as it increases its reach in regional areas over the next two years.
For lawyers in WA, Law Access is an essential front for pro-bono services, connecting those willing to do good work with people in need. For many in the community, Law Access offers the only pathway to justice available. In 2017 that pathway may be more fraught than ever. Hopefully the money raised in today’s walk will allow Law Access to continue to help the people who need help most.
Words by Mara Papavassiliou