Brigid Jenkins – committed to improving family law

Brigid Jenkins – committed to improving family law

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Brigid Jenkins
Brigid Jenkins says working at Victoria Legal Aid helped her gain useful skills she's applying at the Family Court of Australia.

As an Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) with Victoria Legal Aid (VLA), Brigid Jenkins’ role was centered around trying to lessen the impact of legal disputes on children.

‘I’ve had cases where I’ve been a child’s lawyer for eight years and the child is nine years old, so they’ve been involved in litigation their entire lives and they’ve known nothing else their entire lives. Kids who are in conflict for a long time will often just opt out and choose one parent over the other, because they just want it to stop and that’s the easiest way for them to do that.’

An accredited specialist in Children’s Law, Brigid is committed to finding sustainable solutions that benefit children and their families. It’s a principle she’s carried through to a new role as a Registrar at the Family Court of Australia, ‘The impact [of litigation] on families can be huge so I think it’s important for lawyers in the early stages to calm things down rather than ramp things up, because the long-term impact can be huge, especially for children and its children’s matters that come back again and again.’

Brigid started her career in commercial law ‘which wasn’t really for me’ and worked in private practice in regional Victoria before joining Victoria Legal Aid in 2007 as an ICL. While many shy away from the emotionally charged atmosphere of family law, Brigid says it’s the human element that she enjoys, ‘You really can make a difference in people’s lives and make what can be a really scary process for them less intimidating and not as damaging to people.’  

After over a decade at VLA including managing the ICL Program and leading a comprehensive review of family law legal aid services in 2014-15 that has led to 35 actions for change currently being implemented, in April Brigid took up her new role. Her position involves managing cases, assisting with resolution and finalising disputes by agreement.

She says the skills she honed working as an ICL, put her in a good position for her work at the court. ‘I think what I learnt as an ICL at VLA was about being independent and assessing cases; reality testing, those skills have stood me in good stead because that’s really what I’m doing here, being in the middle, being independent and helping people reach resolution.’

Nicole Rich, Executive Director Family, Youth and Children’s Law worked closely with Brigid at VLA and said she was excited to see a family lawyer of Brigid’s calibre and experience go on to such an important role at the Family Court.

‘I think family law is an incredibly challenging area of legal practice particularly in the Legal Aid context where you work with some very vulnerable children and families, but ultimately it can also be very rewarding because you can have a real and positive impact. Brigid is a great example of this, becoming a highly respected Independent Children’s Lawyer and driving reforms to legal aid services, before going on to a central role at the court.’

Brigid says the decision to leave VLA was a difficult one, but that she is enjoying her new focus. ‘It was hard to leave VLA. I loved working there and I loved my team because we’d worked together for a long-time, but it was time for me to move on.’

More information 

Read more about Careers at Victoria Legal Aid.