It is a depressing time for access to justice. Legal aid is being cut; the more general market for legal services is depressed; and – if Jackson and the legal aid cuts have the predicted effect – it about to get more depressed. So it was with interest that I stumbled across Salvos Legal, a commercial legal firm in Australia with links to the Salvation Army that makes money from commercial and residential property cases and then uses the profits from that to cross-subsidise what it calls humanitarian law. This includes: criminal law; family & children law; welfare; debt; housing; and, refugee & immigration law. They also operate a pro-bono desk which coordinates the participation of pro bono advice from in-house lawyers.
The recruitment strategy for their lawyers looks interesting, and one way they ensure a good stream of work is by getting invited onto government panels which then enables them to tender for work.
I am not aware of any serious attempt like this to begin plugging access to justice gaps through this kind of overt cross-subsidy. The argument has been for years that legal aid is informally cross-subsidised, but this is quite different and it is also appears to be of a different order to pro bono schemes (where some firms second out employees to work in advice agencies). Am I missing something, I can’t think of anything here yet which looks like this?
There are various potential problems with the approach. The Salvation Army roots mean the firm may be reluctant to take certain kinds of case, I hear (thought I have no detail on what kinds of case). Conversely, the charity’s roots also, reportedly, facilitate its links with social welfare providers (hostels; drugs workers and the like). One also wonders how easy it is to cross-subsidise in a competitive market. On that point it is worth noting however that Salvos is growing from its initial Sidney base to an office in Brisbane. Two offices of course is but a drop in the access to justice ocean, nevertheless it provides food for thought.
I have been reminded of this from Jon Robins, where some Law Centres are attempting something similar (HT Ryan Bradshaw) .