Lawyers gather in Adelaide as legal assistance crisis looms

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Amid a burgeoning crisis in access to justice in Australia, more than 200 lawyers, judges, government officials, and academics have gathered in Adelaide at the sixth National Access to Justice & Pro Bono Conference.

"The legal assistance sector is currently in crisis," said Fiona McLeod, Law Council of Australia president. “A steady erosion of government funding over a generation has now produced a situation in which hundreds of thousands of Australians are being denied legal representation when they seek it.”

The crisis is even more striking given Australian lawyers’ efforts to step up and help.

“Australian lawyers are contributing a remarkable 35 hours of pro bono legal services, per lawyer, per year. But this cannot be substitute for a properly funded legal assistance sector,” she said. “That's why it is so critical for lawyers to gather and to exchange ideas around how the funding crisis might be addressed, but also how to innovate and collaborate to do the very best possible with the meagre resources currently available.”

McLeod spoke this morning at the opening of the conference, which will last through tomorrow. Delivering the keynote speech, “What’s wrong with the legal profession – and how to fix it,” is Sheldon Krantz, executive director of the DC Affordable Law Firm and co-director of the US access to justice organisation Justice Lab. He will also deliver the conference dinner address, “The rule of law in the new America.”

The conference, the first to be held in South Australia, is presented by the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Pro Bono Centre in conjunction with the Law Society of South Australia.

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