Silver Jubilee for Legal Clinic

Anna Copeland standing in front of SCALES Clinic sign

Special anniversary for a unique law service.

The Southern Communities Advocacy Legal and Education Service Inc. (SCALES) is a community legal centre and where Murdoch University runs a Clinical Legal Education unit. 25 years ago SCALES opened their doors for the first time with just three staff and a group of eager law students. A quarter of a century later, they have assisted thousands of clients and now have 14 team members.

SCALES provides low-income clients with free legal advice, information and representation and also provides a state-wide service in the area of immigration. The law clinic offers assistance to community members on a range of legal matters including advice and support on family and domestic violence, family law disputes, tenancy advocacy, criminal injuries compensation, and criminal matters heard in the Magistrates Court and Children’s Court.

The clinical programs at SCALES are nationally recognised. Students get to experience the 'hands on', operation of the legal system while they are responsible for real files and real clients.

“It's not just the legal skills they're developing and the knowledge that they're learning. It's also that they're getting a sense of what kind of legal practitioners they want to be. It allows us to really teach students ethics in context, which is so much richer and better in terms of their learning. And they can think through what kind of law they want to practice, which puts them in a much better position for being skills ready,” said Anna Copeland, Director of SCALES.

Before SCALES was launched, the Kwinana Rockingham Community Legal Centre was a ‘no-frills, largely unsung, volunteer organisation’. The areas that the Centre serviced had low levels of available legal support and the Centre provided many people help they would otherwise not receive.

Getting SCALES off the ground involved years of planning, advocacy and negotiations to secure the funding. In 1994 Murdoch University made a commitment to match any Commonwealth funding dollar for dollar. In addition to funding from the Law Society of Western Australia Public Purpose Trust Fund and the Lotteries Commission (now Lotterywest), these commitments made SCALES a reality.

Gai Walker, Managing Director at SCALES (centre) celebrating landmark with the team.

It was the agreement from Murdoch University to develop a clinical legal education component of SCALES that set the program apart from other community legal centres in WA. Students enrol in the SCALES unit which is counted towards their degree. The students spend one day a week at the Centre dealing with real clients, under the supervision of established lawyers. The experience has proved invaluable for countless lawyers who cut their teeth at Murdoch including well known Barrister and Murdoch Distinguished Alumnus, Mr Tim Hammond.

“It came along at an important time in my life. The way it transferred theoretical values about what is important about the law into what it means to help people was something that set me on a path that otherwise I wouldn’t have gone on. It put me on a path through the law, and politics, where I was able to translate values I had swirling around internally into action,” said Tim.

Many SCALES alumni report that their experience influences their participation in pro-bono services or working in public interest law throughout their career. The experience resulting in a positive outcome for the whole community.

“SCALES and then the advanced clinic are the two units I remember most about my university time. They fit me and gave me the chance to literally learn on the job in a supportive and collegiate way. Some of the people I met are my best friends now. SCALES gave me tangible skills and examples that I could say I learned in future job applications. Most importantly however it gave me the confidence and ideas to apply for different opportunities after university meaning I've been able to do some exciting and life changing things with my legal career,” said Mieke Dixon, Senior Lawyer and National Client Service Manager, AGS.

The SCALES program has provided services to over 15,000 members of the community and has taught over 1,000 students. Clinical Director Anna Copeland is proud of its impact and confident it will continue to benefit both students and the wider community for many years to come.

“We've won lots of awards. We've won a national Human Rights award, we've won citations at the university level and nationally for the learning and teaching, and we've won state and community service awards. More importantly, we've seen so many clients and assisted so many people with legal problems as well as teaching hundreds of students. It's been a very successful program.”

Posted on:

26 Aug 2022

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