Whether you’re a graduate at the coalface or leading the highest court in the land, there’s one thing you have in common: a commitment to justice.
On a recent visit to Portia’s Christchurch office, the Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann showed an appreciation of the work Portia staff have done to promote access to justice in New Zealand, particularly in the field of family law.
Access to justice in New Zealand is a basic human right enshrined in both national and international law. The work to improve it primarily involves identifying and removing barriers. Some barriers – such as the cost of legal advice – are obvious, others are harder to see.
Digital poverty, age, fear, homelessness, mental illness, addiction, bureaucracy, ethnicity and inherent social bias are all things that prevent segments of society from getting a fair go.
There is a choice that every lawyer and law firm can make when it comes to how we deal with our clients: we can deliver legal services dispassionately, or; we can treat them holistically to help resolve their legal problem in the context of what else is going on in their life. The former is perfectly acceptable but the latter can be achieved through planning and good networking.
Erin Ebborn and the Rt. Hon. Dame Helen Winkelmann during a visit to the Christchurch office.
Dame Helen was able to discuss the experience of working at Portia with the young litigation team in a relaxed atmosphere before a group photo and private chat with CEO Jarrod Coburn and myself.
The issues we discussed concerned finding ways to best help some of Aotearoa’s most vulnerable people when it comes to the law and courts. It would be hard for non-lawyers to understand the mana that a visit by our Chief Justice brings to this firm. It is a recognition
recognition of the hard work our current and past staff have invested to make our vision a reality.
Accessing justice is a human right and at the heart of a healthy society.
Helping others is a reason many young people give when asked why they chose the law. Sadly, the nature of the work can sometimes temper that passion. Being able to fuel that drive and idealism in a working law firm is a rare opportunity and one I’m grateful for.
In 2019 the incoming Chief Justice of New Zealand broke with protocol and in doing so set two justice juggernauts on a collision course.
Dame Helen invited Auckland City Missioner, Chris Farrelly, to give the speech in reply at her swearing in.
In his speech, Chris quoted poet and civil rights activist MayaAngelou, paying tribute to the new Chief Justice as both a “composition and a composer” – someone who not only composes the future of their own life but also helping the future of everyone around her.
The speech inspired Erin Ebborn and Jarrod Coburn to write to the City Missioner, seeking ways to assist their clients access justice. After 18 months of discussion and planning an operational MOU was
signed between Auckland City Mission and Portia, with a commitment to support clients of the Mission who are most at risk. The first initiative is to provide free wills for homeless individuals at high risk of mortality, assisting the Mission to continue providing them dignity in death.
Portia’s VLaw® system will be used to enable urgent applications to be sought under the PPPR, Family Violence and Care of Children Acts. An audiovisual link will also enable training sessions to be undertaken and the learning will be both ways, as Portia staff upskill on the particular
Chris Farrelly the Auckland City Missioner. Source: NZHerald.co.nz
issues and barriers faced by the Mission’s client base, a very different situation to our women’s refuge partners.
Portia’s Jarrod Coburn sees the new arrangement as “a very significant step” in the role law firms will play in building trust and legitimacy within the justice system. When people lead by example then others often are compelled to follow. Chris Farrelly and the Chief Justice together presented a wero to the profession. Nobody should be afraid to pick up the taki.