The legal assistance landscape

The legal assistance landscape

This snapshot is about legal assistance in Victoria and Victoria Legal Aid’s role in the sector.

Who provides legal assistance in Victoria?

In Victoria there are five major providers of legal assistance services – private lawyers, community legal centres, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria and Victoria Legal Aid.

Victoria Legal Aid is both a provider and funder of legal assistance services. It provides services direct to the Victorian community, while also co-ordinating funding to 40 community legal centres and private lawyers on our panels to provide access to justice.

For more information read who we work with.

Private lawyers

About 70 per cent of all grants of legal assistance are assigned to private lawyers to represent legally aided clients. Last year private lawyers also provided eight per cent of duty lawyer services at courts around the state.

Community legal centres

Community legal centres provide free advice, casework and legal education to their communities.

Some are generalist centres that assist people with issues such as credit and debt, family law, family violence, victims of crime compensation and neighbourhood disputes, while others specialise in particular areas of law, such as tenancy, consumer, employment, human rights, environmental, immigration law.

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service was established in the 1970s to meet the needs of Indigenous people, working to ensure that they enjoy their legal rights and have access to legal representation in courts. It is also actively involved in community education, research and advocacy around law reform and policy development.

Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria 

Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria was established in 2002 to provide assistance to victims of family violence and sexual assault and to work with families and communities affected by violence. It provides legal advice, referrals, ongoing casework and court representation. It also engages in community legal education and community development activities, as well as policy and law reform directed towards systemic change.

Victoria Legal Aid lawyers

Victoria Legal Aid lawyers also represent people on grants of assistance in criminal, family and civil law matters. Last year they provided 92 per cent of duty lawyer services around the state.

Our staff also provide legal information and advice to the community. Last year our Legal Help phone line took more than 114,000 calls and our staff also provided community legal education. We also provide early intervention services such as legal advice, minor assistance, non-legal advocacy and family dispute resolution services.

See our annual report for more about our services and performance in 2014–15.

We support the mixed model of service delivery

In our submission to the Productivity Commission in 2013 we said the ‘mixed model’ – with an in-house practice, private practitioners and community legal centres working together – was best practice.

Read our Response to Productivity Commission draft report into Access to Justice Arrangements (doc, 348.5 KB).

Eligibility guidelines

Despite the widespread legal need in the community, not everyone is able to get legal assistance. Our funds are finite and we must prioritise our resources towards the people who need our help most.

It is part of our Board’s responsibility to set priorities for the provision of legal aid and control and administer the legal aid fund.

Some of our services are available to everyone, while other more intensive services, such as legal representation are offered to people who need it the most.

We set eligibility guidelines to determine who can get a grant of legal assistance and the type of matters we can help with.

In deciding who gets a grant we consider a number of factors including a person’s financial situation using a means test, what the matter is about, the likely benefit to the person and if helping a person will benefit the public.

Read more about who is eligible for help and how you can get a lawyer to run your case.

Unmet need for civil law services

In 2014 the Productivity Commission’s Access to Justice Arrangements Inquiry found that only the poorest Australians were eligible for legal assistance under tough means tests. It identified a major shortage of civil law services such as family violence, debt, tenancy, housing and social security legal assistance – especially in outer suburban and regional areas.

We agreed with the commission’s recommendations that extra investment was needed from state and Federal governments to expand access to justice.

For more information read National Legal Aid welcomes Productivity Commission call for $200 million investment in legal assistance services.