Sharing good fortune with the less fortunate

Sharing good fortune with the less fortunate

Monday, 2 September 2019

Antoinette's journey

With nearly 25 years of service undertaking legally aided work for our clients, Antoinette Kordell of Kordell Lawyers in Ballarat has had a diverse range of experience in the law.

‘I started my career working in a volunteer capacity at the Fitzroy Mental Health Legal Service and was mentored by a very fine and passionate senior lawyer who took me under her wing and introduced me to how personally rewarding a legal career can be.

‘From there I moved to Ballarat in the early 1990s as it was rumoured that you would be given more responsibility earlier in your career in a regional town, compared to bigger city law firms. I certainly found that to be the case, and from the outset I was thrown into the deep end, and court work became my focus.

‘I appeared in the Magistrates’ Court in the Civil, Family Law and Criminal jurisdictions, Victims of Crime Tribunal, the Children’s Court and the Family Court of Australia. I also obtained my accreditation as a duty lawyer at a time when Victoria Legal Aid outsourced this role to solicitors in private practice.

‘I volunteered for many years at the Central Highlands Community Legal Centre (including becoming chair of the committee) and encouraged staff to volunteer their time after I became an employer. In the past I have also held the role of Chairperson of the Ballarat and District Law Association and contributed as a member of the Centacare Board in Ballarat.

However, it was family law that interested Antoinette the most.

‘I earned my specialist family law accreditation in 1999.

‘I was appointed to the Victoria Legal Aid Child Representative Panel (now the Independent Children’s Lawyer panel) in 2002 and at that time I was also engaged as the solicitor outsourced for the regional area of the Department Human Services (now Department of Health and Human Services) before that role become inhouse many years later.

Antoinette Kordell, Kordell Lawyers
Antoinette Kordell, Kordell Lawyers

Motivation for legally aided work

As for what attracted her to do legally aided work, Antoinette is thoughtful.

‘Ballarat practitioners by nature are collegiate; supportive and generous with their knowledge and expertise.

‘Many hold onto and demonstrate the core values of community and service. Those before me, across all Ballarat firms, have encouraged and modelled that concept of "giving back".

‘I, too, am grateful for earning a law degree and to have been afforded the opportunity to practice over many years. Undertaking legally aided work is my way of sharing that good fortune. 

‘It is my hope that this sense of connection to community and generosity with our skills can be carried forward to the next generation of lawyers, as this is what makes our profession meaningful.’

A sole practitioner specialising in all areas of family law, including private practice and legally aided work as an Independent Children’s Lawyer, Antoinette sees three key issues in her area of practice.

‘Mental health, drug and alcohol misuse and violence are three factors that are incredibly prominent in cases throughout the family law system.

‘Understanding the catalysts and ramifications of these issues in families and how, we as practitioners can assist in redressing the outcomes for children when families separate, is key.’

As for what personal and professional attributes make a good panel practitioner, Antoinette believes the list is long, but important.

‘Passion, gratitude, empathy, curiosity and a sense of pride in what you do, and the quality of your work, is what is required for this role.’

Pressed on the benefits of Victoria Legal Aid’s quality audit process for panel practitioners, Antoinette is candid.

‘The process is a timely reminder to review how you practice and the processes you use.

‘Maybe you’ve fallen into bad habits or simply forgotten over time to keep up the practice of documenting what has become routine and second nature. There might be a better, easier or newer way of doing something that can usefully brought to your attention.

‘For me, it was that feeling of finally, someone independent is looking at the quality of my files from the point of view of promoting great work, and it was quite affirming.’

Advice for other panel practitioners

As for advice on how her panel practitioner colleagues can prepare for a Victoria Legal Aid audit and pass it with ease, Antoinette has some helpful advice.

‘Everyone in your office should be keeping file notes on everything you do, from conflict checks when opening a file, to notes explaining why you have decided to take certain action, to your own attendances.

‘Letters confirming conversations are even better. Keep a separate section for all documents associated with the grant of legal assistance, even if it means duplicating file notes and the like, so that they are easily identified and accessed during an audit.

‘Organise the paperwork and make sure all office staff use the same protocols for naming, saving and storing.

‘Finally, take pride in what you do, go that extra mile to engage with all stakeholders and initiate a phone call, instead of responding to one.’

Quality Audit Manager Anthony Benka and his team said Antoinette was an outstanding example of a panel practitioner exercising best practice in file management and client service.

‘Antoinette was highly proactive in advocating for children’s best interests and displayed a willingness to provide advice and representation beyond what was expected. Her interaction with other legal professionals and relevant experts was professional and courteous.

‘Antoinette’s file management was excellent with all relevant documents being on file and organised in a clear and logical manner, and her file notes were detailed and comprehensive.

‘These practices ensured that the bests interests of children were always at the forefront of proceedings,’ said Anthony.

More information

Read about the Section 29A panels conditions.

For more information contact the Quality Audit team on (03) 9269 0605 or (03) 9269 0558.

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