Victoria Legal Aid

Eila Pourasgheri is working to foster safe and inclusive communities as Families director

Eila is driven by her commitment to social justice and hopes her experience in the community legal sector can help create linkages to work collaboratively.

Wednesday 13 September 2023 5:06am
Portrait photo of our families director, Eila Pourasgheri.
Our families director, Eila Pourasgheri.

Eila Pourasgheri was appointed as the director of our Families team in February. She came to our organisation from Women’s Legal Service Victoria. This follows the creation of the role as part of our program to modernise our executive structure.

In taking on the role, Eila is excited about ensuring social justice outcomes, as well as connecting clients with our services earlier, to really meet their needs:

‘I'm really passionate about going upstream and making sure that when issues are first arising, people can get the advice and support they need, rather than when they have reached crisis stage.’

The director role oversees the planning, design and delivery of the Families programs in our Family, Youth and Children’s Law (FYCL) directorate. The role is supported by three associate directors, who lead our programs in:

  • Family Law Services
  • Family Violence Response
  • Family Dispute Resolution Service.

The role facilitates provision of legal assistance and dispute resolution through our in-house teams and other providers. The role leads innovation and growth in service design and delivery. And it also works closely with the executive director, FYCL on law reform and policy change, ensuring that this work is informed by our service delivery and the experiences of our clients.

Maintaining strong working relationships and working in consultation with government and others in the legal and community sectors is also an important aspect of the role. This enables strengthening of referral pathways, collaborative planning and work toward achieving systemic change.

Eila’s commitment to social justice

Eila says her commitment to social justice and determination to become a lawyer is motivated by her background. Her family immigrated to Australia from Iran when she was a young child, where she saw the impact of the revolution on women and political rights. The challenges her family experienced have helped Eila understand how socio-economic inequality manifests, in terms of opportunities, as well as engagement with institutions.

Eila’s career journey has taken her from commercial litigation, to social justice work in Vanuatu and Cambodia, before completing a master’s degree in human rights.

Most recently, as part of the leadership team at Women’s Legal Service, Eila led Victoria’s first tailored family violence training program for lawyers. She also led development of a training program for family violence support practitioners, to build their skills and knowledge to spot legal issues, provide legal information and connect clients to legal help.

Eila championed the Starts with usExternal Link gender equality program, including sector-wide collaboration to drive action on gender and intersectional inequality across the legal and justice sector.

She collaborated with three community legal centres (CLCs) in Melbourne’s west to establish their family law practices, in the Family Law Access project that VLA funded and was a program partner in.

Eila says she also enjoys working with community leaders as a sustainable and engaging way to connect with communities. In a pilot project working with people who experienced inter-generational poverty, informal community leaders were engaged and empowered to identify legal issues, provide legal information and link people in their community to support services.

‘Being from a migrant community, I saw that organically happen when we came to Australia within the Iranian community. You worked out between yourselves ‘who did you go to for that?’ and the community became almost like a reference library of where you go.

‘When we talk about inclusion in our strategies and programs, and making sure we are accessible and the people who need us can get to us – I think that communities are a real enabling force in being able to do that.’

Working to achieve fair, safe and sustainable outcomes

Eila is enthusiastic about the FYCL directorate’s established approach of putting the people who may benefit from our services at the centre of what we do.

Eila says the directorate is fortunate to have a group of incredible staff, who are driven by our values, to progress the priorities in our Families program.

Key priorities for the team to work on collaboratively include:

  • early intervention
  • promoting the best interests of children and their participation in decisions that affect them
  • collaborative multidisciplinary practice
  • supporting and strengthening the family law workforce.

Eila says the team is working to respond to some of the current challenges in the sector. These include a lack of panel practitioners doing family law work, low remuneration for legally aided work, burnout, and juniorisation of the workforce. Meanwhile there is increased demand for family law services, as well as increasing complexity of cases.

‘The family law program, in collaboration with the relevant regional associates director and managers in regional offices, has been workshopping how to address the challenges and look for opportunities. We’re working through our short- and longer-term strategies to ensure we’re building sustainability in the system.

‘We’re conscious of the things we can’t change, that are out of our control, but for the things that we can change, we’re thinking about a sound framework and strategy to do that.’

Connecting and working collaboratively with other organisations and service providers will be an important way to support our clients in their range of intersecting needs. Eila says her previous experience in the community legal sector helps her see opportunities for linkages.

‘Working together, we can put the client at the centre and wrap community and legal support services around their needs, working in a really holistic multidisciplinary way.’

Eila says collaboration and linkages with other organisations are a feature of many projects across the extensive work underway in our Families programs.

Finding ways to resolve problems early helps lessen stresses for clients and decrease court caseloads. Family Dispute Resolution is an important service for settling disputes before needing to go to court.

In family violence cases, our Early Resolution Service is working to provide help before court, while our Family Advocacy and Support Service is providing connections to social support workers.

Our Family Violence program has also developed a comprehensive e-learning program. This client safety framework gives legal staff the tools to be able to respond appropriately to family violence when providing legal advice, casework services and referrals to specialist support services.

We are pleased to continue delivering our Family Law Property Program, which Eila hopes can be sustained, as people really need assistance and support in this area post-separation. This is especially needed for people escaping family violence to be able to access their fair share of a property division and help support their recovery. This program predominantly uses legally assisted mediation to resolve post-separation property matters.

Eila is also keen to explore ways to increase access to our services for First Nations clients and clients from culturally diverse backgrounds, to complement the sector-wide First Nations Cultural Capability Framework.

More information

Read more about our work in family law.

Reviewed 13 September 2023