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Law Handbook Contributor Profile – Brian Wright

Brian Wright is a Victorian Magistrate, appointed in 2004, who specialises in the WorkCover jurisdiction. Brian is a long-serving legal volunteer; he started volunteering in 1974 and has been a volunteer with Fitzroy Legal Service since 1978. Despite being busy with his duties as a Magistrate and a Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal member, he continues to work with Fitzroy Legal Service as a part of the Publications Committee.

Brian did his undergraduate degree at Monash University before completing his Master of Laws at The University of Melbourne. His pathway into law was a matter of luck and circumstance. Initially aiming for a place in the Diplomatic Corps, this aspiration became impossible when Malcolm Fraser closed enrolments to the program. As Brian had also undertaken a law degree at the time, he moved forward with his back-up plan. It was meant to be; despite being fairly late to the game with his application, he was able to get articles with Slater and Gordon. Working with Slater and Gordon, Brian did a bit of everything; it was the same when he went to bar – he did anything and everything. However, the subjects he really enjoyed while studying in university were personal injury law and worker’s compensation, and he has a great depth of knowledge in these areas.

It didn’t take long for Brian to get involved with community legal services. The other article clerk that Brian was working with at Slater and Gordon was involved in setting up Nunawading Legal Service (which has now become the Eastern Community Legal Service) and that was the first legal service he was involved with. When he completed his post-graduate studies, Brian was already living in Fitzroy, so Fitzroy Legal Service was conveniently located just up the road. Having been with Fitzroy Legal Service for such a long time, Brian has been around for many big events and changes. He vividly remembers when the Brunswick Street office burned down. At the time, staff members were not only dealing with the fire but with finding new facilities and managing the clients.

On a more positive note, volunteering with Fitzroy Legal Service gave Brian the chance to work with many different people who were already experienced in the legal field. In fact, during his time with the Fitzroy Legal Service, Brian worked with a Supreme Court Judge, three lawyers who went on to become County Court Judges and at least four Magistrates, as well as many others. Being involved with community legal services is no small task; a lot of time, effort and care are put into looking after clients and their needs. One of the things that Brian found as he worked with legal services is that there is satisfaction in being able to really help clients who need it. ‘It forced me to sort of deal with real people, deal with real problems,’ he says, ‘and as satisfactory a thing as it is for me, hopefully, that’s what the clients get from me when I give legal advice.’

When asked how he became a contributor to The Law Handbook, he replied with good humour, ‘I started volunteering at Fitzroy Legal Service in 1978 and the legal resources book – the loose leaf one – had only just been out. I took a look at the chapters I was interested in and I said to the editor, Julian Gardiner, ‘Look, I think these are fairly basic…’ and he said, ‘Okay, well, you’ll redo them.’ So Brian’s initial involvement in working with The Law Handbook was a case of being forcefully encouraged to volunteer (and, to The Law Handbook’s benefit, he continued to do so). Brian believes in The Law Handbook, not just as a low-cost and comprehensive resource for the every day person, but as valuable tool for lawyers. He says that many lawyers keep the text on-hand in case someone asks for advice in an area they aren’t sure about, that way they can just flip it open and get a concise overview of the matter.

Outside of the law, Brian describes himself as a bit of a mad traveller – and his adventures are not for the faint of heart. Over the years, he’s been on many high altitude trekking trips, conquering the likes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the Inca Trail in Peru and Mount Toubkal in Morocco. Brian’s not going to be doing so much trekking on his next trip. Instead, he’ll be exploring Hong Kong and maybe just catching the famous Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak!

Posted: January 3, 2017

Law Handbook contributor profile – Dr Renata Alexander

Dr Renata Alexander is an experienced barrister and an academic with an impressive list of accomplishments. She is one of the longest serving legal service volunteers in Victoria, having been involved with community legal centres for over forty years – ever since her fourth year as a law student in 1976. She has been recognised for her efforts and was awarded PILCH’s Community Legal Centre Award in 2000 and the Centenary Medal in 2001, which recognises citizens who have contributed to Australian society or government. When asked what she considered her career highlights, she reflects that her time spent with Legal Aid was something she had dreamed of. Renata is also proud of her academic success. While practising law, she also managed to continue her post-graduate studies focusing on family violence, women’s issues and gender bias in family law. Her long history of work and expertise in family law is what led to her being approached to contribute to The Law Handbook on the topic of family violence.

Renata studied Arts/Law at Monash University, stemming from a desire to help people and a little influence from Perry Mason, a fictional criminal defence lawyer. Although she was initially attracted to studying math at university, she soon discovered that studying law was far more intriguing, sharing a similar framework. ‘It’s all about problem solving and reaching solutions,’ she says.

Her specialisation in family law was the result of a natural progression. Her interest was first piqued after taking on a university elective that dealt with this area of law. Then she got to see her principal – whose specialisation was entertainment law and family law – in action. After going to court with him and hearing him interview, she had a bit more of a feel for it. At the end of her fourth year, when she began volunteering at St Kilda Legal Service, it built on her earlier interest, with around a third of her work for the service revolving around family law. At the end of her education, she jumped straight into practising law.

Despite taking on practical work, Renata’s interest and enjoyment in learning meant that she also continued on the academic pathway, completing both her Masters and her PhD. Since 2001, Renata has also enjoyed her role as a teacher at Monash University. One of the appeals of teaching is that it allows her to draw on both her theoretical and real-world experience; she really enjoys being able to teach students the theory while demonstrating the practical applications with real stories from her own time spent in practise.

One of the reasons that Renata supports the publication of The Law Handbook is due to her strong belief that the law should be accessible to all. ‘I mean, law books are hard enough for law students and lawyers,’ she says, ‘but instead of relying on Women’s Weekly or New Idea, it’s just a very useful resource.’ One aspect that makes this publication such a valuable tool is that it gives good, simple summaries that anyone can read.

Aside from Renata’s contribution to The Law Handbook, a number of her articles have been published since 1997. These range across a number of mediums, including having articles in academic and legal journals, the newspaper, resource centre publications, and educational books.

As an educator, Renata’s areas of specialisation are family law, family violence and child abuse, as well as in clinical legal education. Given that she teaches what she has practised, she has a lot of experience in these areas. Understandably, practising family law can be tough and emotionally draining. It’s an area of law in which you often take feelings home with you and Renata commented, ‘My down-time is pretty much anything that serves as therapy to balance that out.’

In order to maintain a good work-life balance, Renata has a number of hobbies and interests. She currently has two collections that occupy her time. The first is a collection of Russian nesting dolls (or babushka dolls), which she collects from around the world when she travels, as well as from a store in Sydney. Her second collection is something a bit unique; she collects distinctive and unusual pantyhose – though it’s only become a collection because she still has more in their packets than she has open! Like many of us, she also indulges in some TV watching, regularly tuning in to programs like MasterChef, The Good Wife or Grey’s Anatomy to get a good dose of relaxation.

Posted: October 3, 2016

Community Worker Forums

Fitzroy Legal Service, Eastern Community Legal Centre, and St Kilda Legal Service, are hosting three forums across Melbourne for community workers.   These one-day training sessions will cover a range of legal topics and processes relevant to community workers and their work with clients.

The forums will be held in Fitzroy (26th October), St Kilda (19th October) and Ringwood (9th November).   Further information can be found here.

Posted: September 27, 2016

High Court Challenge

On Wednesday 27th July 2016 the Fitzroy Legal Service filed a constitutional challenge in the High Court of Australia, on behalf of Doctors for Refugees.    The case will test whether secrecy laws in the Australian Border Force Act 2015 (Commonwealth) create an impermissible burden on the implied freedom of political communication. The case has been enabled through the generous support of barristers, lawyers from the commercial sector, Fitzroy Legal Service volunteers, and GetUp. Doctors have been at the forefront of raising humanitarian concerns regarding conditions and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and again express their resolve to advocate for patients and public health through commencing this litigation.  An overview of the case can be found here. The Young Liberty for Law Reform report “Operation Secret Borders” can be viewed here.

Posted: August 1, 2016

Michael Clothier, long-time contributor to The Law Handbook, has had a long and interesting career. As he starts to wind back the hours he spends in the office, he takes some time to reflect on his career highlights.

In 1977, Michael ran his first and last jury trial. He was a very young solicitor representing a man who had been charged with causing death by culpable negligent driving. The man had finished his shift in the mines and was driving himself and his best friend, home for the night. While driving, the man had polished off a bottle of whiskey and at some point he had veered off the road, crashing the car and killing his friend. Despite the drinking, Michael was able to persuade the Darwin jury that a buffalo might have wandered onto the road (his client suffered amnesia associated with head injuries). In the end, the jury wasn’t convinced beyond reasonable doubt that a buffalo hadn’t wandered onto the road and caused the accident and allowed the defendant to go free.   After picking himself up from the courtroom floor, Michael decided he had reached the limits of his very average abilities as a jury lawyer and decided, for the sake of future clients, that he would no longer conduct jury trials and would in future, brief a barrister.

Apart from enjoying a 100% success rate in front of juries, the other stand out moment for Michael was in 1985 when he and his legal aid team won a case in the High Court (Kioa v West [1985] HCA 81; (1985) 159 CLR 550) allowing a Tongan immigrant and his wife to remain in Australia with their Australian born daughter. Kioa’s case is still the leading case on the limits of natural justice and procedural fairness required of government decision makers.

Immigration law was something Michael accidentally fell into rather than consciously choosing it as a specialisation.  In the late 1970s he began work with the Australian Legal Aid which was a Federal funded body and was mainly concerned with federal law such a family law, repatriation law, social security law and immigration law.  This was back in the days when there was a Federal Legal Aid office and a State Legal Aid office.   As the area of immigration law grew, so did the work that Michael took on. Very few lawyers were practising immigration law at that time and so he just became the person with the most knowledge and experience.  He eventually ended up grandfathering the Law Institute Specialist Accreditation in Immigration law and spent many years helping to examine other lawyers who wanted to be accredited specialists in the area. “I was able to avoid having to do the exam myself for seventeen years by volunteering to set it” he jokes.

It was natural choice then, for Michael to write the Immigration Law chapters in The Law Handbook, a job that Michael has continued doing for over 30 years.

“I was writing law for non-lawyers and I enjoyed doing that because every year I was trying to put into real language all the changes that had occurred during the year.” Michael liked to pretend that people used The Law Handbook like they used to use the Encyclopedia Britannica, to resolve arguments over the dinner table. But the reality is that the book is a useful tool for people to find an overview about any legal topic.

Currently, Michael works in his own practice with law partner Karyn Anderson. Although this year, he’s dropped down to three days a week in an effort to ease into retirement. With his extra two days off, Michael has built himself a boat. He loves to work with his hands, building the (very) odd extension to the house when he can. The boat, unfortunately, hasn’t managed to stay in one piece. Every time he takes it out, it breaks.  He has even had it blessed with holy water by an inebriated priest whom he invited to dinner. “They say you always build your best boat second,” he jokes, “it’s a boat built by a lawyer.”

With his spare time Michael intends to keep building, he loves working with his hands, and hopes to travel a bit more, enjoying the ocean and drinking some wine. He’d like to remain practising long enough to move his eldest daughter’s admission. She’s currently in her final year of an Arts/Law degree at Monash University.

Access to Justice Review

Fitzroy Legal Service provided a submission to the Victorian Government’s Access to Justice Review.  The submission focused on six of the nine terms of reference.   To read the submission click here.

Posted: March 4, 2016

“knowmore” and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

knowmore is an independent, national legal service established to provide free legal advice and assistance, information and referral services to people engaging or considering engaging with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.    If you or someone you know were sexually abused as a child in an institution, knowmore provides legal help to negotiate the Royal Commission.     Open the link for further information: knowmore

Posted: December 9, 2015

Residential Tenancies Act Review

Fitzroy Legal Service has provided a submission to the Review of the Residential Tenancies Act. Our submission makes nine key recommendations in response to the Residential Tenancies Act Review, Laying the Groundwork – Consultation Paper (June 2015).

Posted: September 26, 2015

Royal Commission into Family Violence

Fitzroy Legal Service has provided support to the Homeless Person’s Union of Victoria (HPUV) to make a submission for the Royal Commission into Family Violence. In order to make this submission, members of HPUV recorded interviews with people currently homeless and/or with lived experience of homelessness in relation to the terms of reference of the Inquiry. Transcripts of these interviews are available.

Posted: December 19, 2014