Our legal help webchat is a simple interface on our website, where people can live chat in real time with a Legal Help staff member and be provided with legal information. It has a general enquiry line and a dedicated family violence line.
Building on its significant success, we’re now conducting a pilot to test and evaluate the benefits of extending the webchat service beyond just legal information to provide legal advice to people experiencing or using family violence.
‘This is an exciting opportunity to expand this service, learning about how technology can improve access to justice for help-seekers and clients. It has the potential to help us and our partners in community legal centres and the private legal sector to narrow the justice gap,' said Jon Cina, Associate Director, Access and Equity at Victoria Legal Aid (VLA).
A webchat legal advice model has been developed to ensure legal, professional, and ethical regulatory obligations are met. Two webchat lawyers have commenced their work on the pilot. We are also working with people with a lived experience of family violence to help inform the pilot’s design.
The pilot will go live in August for a six-month period, tracking the access, quality, safety and efficiency benefits throughout.
‘We’ve seen the success of webchat in providing legal information, with help-seekers waiting less than 30 seconds to start a live chat with a lawyer and receiving a transcript of their legal information at the end of the chat to remind them about the next steps in dealing with their legal issue,’ said Jon.
Responding to the needs of victim-survivors
Every year, nearly half of Australia’s adults face a legal problem, with only some of those seeking help from a legal service or professional. Additionally, one quarter of women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner and only some are able to access the information and advice required to stay safe and assess their options.
‘In recent years our Legal Help and reception staff noticed an increase in the number of people unable to wait on the line or others speaking in whispers because they were at home in an unsafe situation,’ said Sharika Jeyakumar, Acting Associate Director, Family Violence Response at VLA.
‘This demonstrated to us that we needed to introduce a priority response for people with family violence legal matters to quickly receive information and advice,’ said Sharika.
Access to justice is at the heart of our efforts to provide a suite of information and advice options to those in need.
‘Currently, our Legal Help service provides information and advice to over a hundred thousand help seekers a year including appropriate referrals to partnering organisations, our practice areas and duty lawyers,’ said Jon.
‘While this service is predominately provided over the phone, the expansion in recent years to include a webchat legal information service provides options for how people ask for and receive legal information.
‘It’s often faster than calling our help line, which in turn reduces the wait time for other callers and enables us to effectively triage and direct help seekers appropriately,’ said Jon.
The webchat legal information service currently assists 30 per cent of enquiries across our Legal Help program. It particularly benefits those who have trouble talking over the phone, including some people living with a disability, those who are at work when they contact us, or those who don’t want to discuss their legal problem if other people can hear.
Reviewed 21 June 2023