Aboriginal employees vital to success of Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities
In 2019, Aboriginal representation in Legal Aid NSW’s workforce was around 6%, with the agency aiming to reach 11% by 2023. Notably, Aboriginal people comprised around half of Legal Aid’s Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities (CLSAC) workforce.
Established in 2013, CLSAC provides legal assistance to Aboriginal peoples and communities, mainly in regional and remote areas of NSW, where access to legal help can be limited.
Many Aboriginal people face multiple disadvantages that can compound each other. For instance, around 80% of CLSAC’s clients experience one or more disadvantages, including homelessness, unemployment and disability. To address this, CLSAC helps with common legal problems such as barriers to housing, disputes with Centrelink, discrimination, unfair consumer contracts and unethical practices of traders. Left unresolved, these issues can lead to further disadvantage.
CLSAC’s staff members are respectful, diligent and compassionate. They understand the factors underlying their clients’ experiences, which encourages clients to talk more openly about their needs and issues. CLSAC meets with members of the community in locations that suit the community. They share food and build relationships as the same staff members return to the same community.
Aboriginal employees play a vital role in CLSAC’s unique service delivery approach, bringing a deep knowledge, respect and understanding of the Aboriginal communities CLSAC serves. These skills – particularly when combined with legal health checks to help uncover the range of issues clients face and a team of lawyers, financial counsellors and project officers – help CLSAC successfully affect positive change on multiple levels.
… this service has helped and spoken to [us] … represented [us] and sat with us one on one in our community. Plus it has been a constant service we all … rely and depend on.
CLSAC’s cultural and client-centred approach to service delivery, grounded in its Aboriginal workforce, has achieved almost $2.5 million in financial benefits for clients. It has also delivered countless non-monetary benefits, such as helping people retain their housing, get essential repairs and maintenance completed, and have their driver’s licence reinstated.
In addition to securing individual outcomes, CLSAC helps build the capabilities of Aboriginal communities and service providers to identify and manage legal problems. It achieves this by weaving legal education into its client and community engagement and using accessible language to discuss legal issues. Strengthening these capabilities helps tackle systemic issues and contributes to law reform.
Led by its Aboriginal staff members, CLSAC has created a strong foundation of Aboriginal cultural competency among its team and Legal Aid more broadly. Identified roles and Legal Aid’s flexible working policy – which recognises the importance of cultural and family needs – have improved employee attraction and retention. In turn, Aboriginal staff members create a sense of pride in the communities they work in, as they deliver services in culturally appropriate and respectful ways.
Legal Aid has evaluated CLSAC’s service and found it to be an ideal example of a mainstream service successfully working with Aboriginal clients and communities. CLSAC is now exploring ways of further increasing Aboriginal peoples’ access to legal services in NSW.