Luke Geary, Managing Partner, Salvos Legal and Salvos Legal Humanitarian

Salvos Legal Humanitarian, to date, has provided free legal assistance on 16,000 matters, at no cost either to the government or to The Salvation Army. That’s 16,000 cases of access to justice that otherwise would not exist.

Salvos Legal is a not-for-profit law firm that provides commercial and property services to corporations, government agencies and not-for-profits. The fees collected by Salvos Legal, less expenses, are used to fund Salvos Legal Humanitarian.

Salvos Legal Humanitarian is a full-service law firm that provides services to the “disadvantaged and marginalized” in family law, housing, social security, migration and refugee matters, debt, criminal law and other areas. The services of Salvos Legal Humanitarian are offered free of charge; the firm has a staff of lawyers whose salaries are paid from the funding of Salvos Legal.

Both Salvos Legal and Salvos Legal Humanitarian are wholly owned by The Salvation Army and the two companies have the same Board of Directors. I am one of the six Directors on each Board, and the only lawyer — four Directors are trustees of The Salvation Army, and the sixth is a retired Salvation Army Officer.

Both Salvos Legal and Salvos Legal Humanitarian are not-for-profit law firms. The reason for their existence is to serve people in need. They are an expression of the social work of The Salvation Army, in a justice sense.

Our senior lawyers are called partners, but they are salaried — they do not own any shares in the companies.

Our non-lawyer Directors have fiduciary obligations to the companies and to The Salvation Army itself. They have no motivation to cause either company to act in an unethical manner. At any rate, the non-lawyer Directors defer to me on legal issues.

That being said, there are many aspects of running a law firm that lawyers are not necessarily gifted in, or are not exclusively gifted in. The Directors of the two companies are senior executives running a major public organization, and Salvos Legal and Salvos Legal Humanitarian are businesses. In addition, The Salvation Army requires them to conform to a code of conduct.

Salvos Legal Humanitarian, to date, has provided free legal assistance on 16,000 matters, at no cost either to the government or to The Salvation Army. That’s 16,000 cases of access to justice that otherwise would not exist. And that number goes up with each passing day.[1]

I think that there are lawyers in other countries who would like to do what we are doing at Salvos Legal, and there will probably also be those who would see Salvos lawyers as second class lawyers. They might think that if you are worth a million dollars, then you go and get a million dollars — you do not sell yourself short for a community service.

When Salvos Legal first pitched for commercial work, we faced questions about whether or not we were serious. And our lawyers faced similar questions — whether they had what it takes to work in a “real” law firm environment.

We overcame the preconceptions against us by attracting “one big fish,” which was one of the largest banks in Australia. Once we had one big client who recognized that this was something they wanted to do with their legal work that meant that the next big client would not be so nervous. Since they knew that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia had taken that leap, they felt that they could as well. And the third client was even easier, and so on. And now that conception of us no longer exists.

At Salvos Legal, we are showing that it is possible to create opportunities to provide community service, but still maintain your professionalism and the quality of your work. We are not a $2 law firm out in the suburbs. We are high-performing lawyers in the Central Business District of Sydney, and we act for some of the biggest companies in Australia. Our partners have joined us from major national law firms and have strong professional credentials. In 2014 we were recognized as Australia’s Law Firm of the Year at the Australian Law Awards, and in 2015 we were named “Corporate Citizen Firm of the Year” and “Boutique Firm of the Year” by Australasian Lawyer.

Alternative business models definitely provide opportunities for innovation in the delivery of legal services. They permit legal services to be offered cheaper and quicker and to be made more broadly available to a cross section of society. Salvos Legal Humanitarian specifically targets the disadvantaged and marginalized, but alternative structures can also serve the ordinary person who otherwise could not afford a lawyer.

You don’t have to do what everyone has done in the past. If you want a better outcome, then you have to do things differently.

There is a significant problem with access to justice. An important reason for this is that the legal profession has typically not been open to doing things differently, has not been open to creativity. If you want change, then you have to be creative. Or, at a minimum, don’t stop those who are.

[1] Salvos Legal maintains an online counter of the number of matters for which is has provided free legal assistance since 2010: https://slh.salvoslegal.com.au/counter.

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