Introducing the foundation’s new Grants Manager

We’re pleased to announce that Candace Reeves has been appointed permanently as the foundation’s Grants Manager. Candace has been acting in the position for three months and brings a strong focus on social justice to the role. We spoke with Candace to get to know her a little more.

Tell us a bit about yourself when you’re not at work?

Well, I’m passionate about human rights, travel and great coffee. My favourite place so far was India, and my most recent trip was to Scotland to watch my fiancée compete as part of the Canadian hockey team at the Commonwealth Games.

I’m also studying and have only two subjects left before I complete my law degree. When I’m not studying on the weekends, I like discovering new brunch spots and walking my sausage dog, Beanie.

Where were you before coming to the foundation?

I was working as a Senior Legal Assistant in the Human Rights Team at the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office.

What are the most innovative foundation grant projects you have come across?

Our grants funded the establishment of some of Victoria’s key legal bodies, such as Justice Connect’s Homeless Person Legal Clinic and the Human Rights Law Resource Centre. These projects met a real community need, and deliver services creatively in a way that’s targeted to that need – so they’ve had a long-term impact on the lives of Victorians, despite challenges associated with limited funding and resources.

 What sort of projects is the foundation looking to fund?

The foundation grants funding is for projects helping Victorians better understand the law. We’re looking for projects that fill gaps to help address community legal needs, and that can have a significant and long-term impact.

What do people need to know before applying for our grants?

Our general grants are for projects with budgets over $5,000, although we most commonly award between $20,000 and $50,000. We also have small grants for projects of $5,000 or less.

All our grant applicants also benefit from the foundation’s expertise in legal education, publishing and project management. Our staff can offer free advice on plain language, writing, editing, printing, online strategy, events and the legal studies curriculum. This can help develop your project idea, strengthen your application, and improve the overall success of your project.

Any tips on applying?

When writing your application focus on the impact of your project on the lives of Victorians.

We are looking to fund projects that make a real difference so make sure your project has a practical application and there’s a demonstrated need in the community

We can also help you put together your application to give you the best chance of success – so it pays to get in touch with me as soon as you have an idea for a project. I’m always interested to hear about people’s work and to discuss how we might be able to help.

How should people go about applying for a Victoria Law Foundation general grant?

Applications for our next general grants round close on the 17 March 2014 and our small grants are available year-round. You can read our grants criteria, download an application form and find out more about past projects we’ve funded, all on our website.

Make sure you contact us at least six weeks prior to the close date for advice before you apply, but also feel free to get in touch about your project any time to discuss your ideas.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Your honour, sir, madam, justice, or judge?

Our latest guide

Our latest, easy to understand guide.

Today the Victoria Law Foundation launches a new guide on what to call judges and tribunal members in Victoria.

Have you ever wondered what to call the judge when you are in court? Even for the most seasoned lawyer it can be confusing. Imagine being a new law graduate sent down to court for the first time with a million things to think about and Law and Order episodes running through your head. 

Developed in consultation with both Victorian and Federal courts and tribunals, What do I call the judge? is the definitive Victorian guide on what to call judges and tribunal members in court, at functions, in writing and when they retire. Questions that come up every day for those working in the legal sector.

The guide has been developed to make it quick and easy to use, including a quick reference section and commentary with detail and examples on the conventions.

It’s an essential reference tool for anyone in the legal sector who has contact with the courts including new graduates, solicitors, expert witnesses and support staff. It’s information that up until now has been difficult to find in one place.

Ultimately however it is designed to make the public more confident when they come into contact with the courts. Providing clear guidelines that take away some of the stress of being involved in the court process.

The guide is available free, online and in hard-copy. You are welcome to link to the guide online, or to order copies for yourself, for your organisation or to distribute to your clients, visitors and the public. To order, call us on 9604 8100 or visit our website.


Plain language and good communication part of access to justice

Executive Director Joh Kirby at the National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference

Executive Director Joh Kirby at the National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference

Victoria Law Foundation was proud to support last month’s National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference in Melbourne. It’s theme – communication – is at the heart of our work in helping Victorians understand the law and legal system, and the high calibre of speakers did not disappoint.

Plain language took centre stage for the opening plenary session. University of Cape Town’s Professor of Law Halton Cheadle made an impact with his address on the drafting of the South African Constitution, highlighting the benefits its plain language approach sixteen years on. Our own Executive Director Joh Kirby offered an Australian perspective, and shared the findings of her Churchill Fellowship on best practice community legal information. Read Halton’s conference paper or read why Joh thinks good communication matters in the debate about access to justice.

Internationally recognised plain language expert Christopher Balmford (Words and Beyond) kicked off the second day of the conference, offering valuable insight and practical advice for improving the quality of legal writing. His recommended resources (and more) are available on the plain language section of our website.

For much of the conference Joh was happily bailed up by people who share our vision for making the law easier to understand. Copies of our Better Information Handbook were in constant demand. And the conversation continued online, drawing comments on Twitter from those attending the conference as well as legal practitioners and plain language advocates across the globe. We were overwhelmed by this support.

In October, to coincide with International Plain Language Day, Joh will present at an International Plain Language Conference in Vancouver. We’ve also just announced our next three free plain language workshops for legal practitioners in Victoria. Details are on our website.

We’d love to hear about your efforts to use plain language in your legal work, so please join the conversation on this blog or on Twitter (#plainlanguage).

And the winner is…

Last night was Andrea Petrie’s night. The Supreme Court Reporter for The Age took home the coveted award for Legal Reporter of the Year on Legal Issues at our 16th annual Legal Reporting Awards. Andrea was also awarded Best News Breaking Report and was highly commended in this category as well.

Andrea Petrie with The Age's John Silvester won Best Feature

Andrea Petrie with The Age’s John Silvester who won the award for Best Feature

 

The judging panel said….

Andrea’s portfolio showcased a full and outstanding suite of the different styles of legal reporting including:

 Both of Andrea’s news breaks led to positive change, the most noble of objectives for public service journalism.

The Legal Reporting Awards, in their 16th year, recognise excellence in legal journalism in Victoria. No other awards recognise the important role that the media play in helping Victorians to understand the law and legal system. The awards also reflect the foundation’s commitment to improving the quality of information available to Victorians on issues relating to the law and their legal system, and to promoting plain legal language in Victoria.

Last night we gave awards in thirteen categories. Entries are judged by a panel of judges, magistrates and media and communications professionals.

View a complete list of Legal Reporting Awards 2013 winners and highly commended entrants.

Why good communication matters

This week, on the 21-22 March the National Access to Justice Conference takes place in Melbourne. The conference is a joint initiative of the Law Institute of Victoria, National Pro Bono Resource Centre and Law Council of Australia and for the first time will focus on the issues of communication and how better communication can improve access to justice.

Victoria Law Foundation Executive Director Joh Kirby is speaking at the conference in plenary session one: making the law understood. Here Joh tells us why good communication matters in the law and legal sector.

Low levels of literacy and the impact it has on people’s lives is evident in recent preliminary findings released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics looking at literacy and numeracy skills (4228.0 – Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Australia 2011-2012). The survey found that 44% of Australians aged 15 to 74 (7.3 million) had literacy skills at the lowest levels. This makes it difficult for them to fully understand complex or lengthy texts where a level of deduction is required.

A previous survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2006 showed similar results (though based on slightly different criteria). The 2006 survey (4228.0 – Adult literacy and life skills survey, summary results, Australia 2006) found that 46% of Australians did not have the prose literacy levels to navigate the complexities of modern life.

This group are at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to understanding the complexities of legal information and the legal system. Work done by the foundation goes some way to addressing this issue – not only by developing resources that speak directly to this audience through clear, concise writing and good design, but by also providing training and resources such as the Better Information Handbook which provides guidance on how to produce high quality community legal information.

Better communication that considers the skills of the audience does make a difference. But the reality is that community legal information can only go some way to addressing access to justice issues. It is most effective for those whose skills allow them to assess and take control of their situation. What these surveys show us is that for some members of our community this may not be possible, even with the best quality information. One thing that is certain is that this issue and more are bound to cause much debate at the conference this week.

Joh Kirby is Executive Director of Victoria Law Foundation and a member of the organising committee for the Access to Justice Conference. In 2010 Joh received a Churchill Fellowship to examine best practice in community legal information. The foundation is a supporter of the conference.

When is duplication okay?

Every Christmas we are bombarded with information about how we should behave over the festive season. Much of this is about safety – drink in moderation, be safe on the roads, swim between the flags, how to survive Christmas day with the in-laws. It’s also often about our legal rights as consumers or employees such as knowing when are you entitled to a refund or exchange or your right to holidays or overtime.

 Sometimes you will hear the same message over and over again from different sources, so why the duplication? Executive Director Joh Kirby tells us about efforts to better coordinate legal information in Victoria.

“Last week the Attorney-General Robert Clark convened a working group to consider how the legal sector could better collaborate on online resources. The aim was commendable. In essence, he wanted to look at how to reduce duplication of effort and resources, and increase the quality of services to the public.

The spectre of the forum made me start thinking about why duplication exists.

In one view of the perfect world, life for the information seeker would be easy: one source of information with answers to everyone’s legal questions, available right here on your computer at the push of a button. But take a glance out of the window or a stroll down the street and it becomes clear that we are not a homogenous society. Different cultural backgrounds, age, education and literacy levels can all have an impact on the type of information that we need and want, and where and how we seek it out. And so duplication of information often serves an essential purpose.

But what about when there is no purpose to duplication? When it happens as a result of poor coordination or when organisations get wrapped up in themselves and lose sight of what their audience wants.

Better using existing information sources and expanding information-sharing forums will help to improve coordination. But it takes a commitment by organisations to bring about change in this area. Perhaps the first step for all organisations is to look to see what others are doing before embarking on a project. Organisations need to ask themselves: does anyone else produce this information, should my organisation do it and why, and could we collaborate to better serve the needs of our audience?

In the arena of legal information, the focus should firmly be on how we can best provide the legal information that people want, when, where and how they want it. Having this focus can bring you into conflict with people whose primary concern is to protect an organisation’s position in the marketplace. Focusing on the audience may sometimes mean sharing information to make it more widely available (even if it results in less clicks to your website!), taking a back step on an issue, and not viewing websites primarily as a marketing tool but rather as a means of providing information to the public.

The outcome from the forum was positive and I suspect it made us all look a little bit closer at how we approach our work.

A working group is to be established in 2013, which will include a range of individuals and organisations from across the sector. While the Attorney-General has his work cut out, with the right attitude and commitment, this is a working group that could really improve the way we help Victorians who need legal information and services.”

Law help guide reaches over 100,000 Victorians

There’s someone standing in the foyer of a council building in Sale looking for help with a problem she has with her boss. There’s a student in Melbourne trying to get a sense of how the legal system works. In Horsham, a police officer helps a member of the public who doesn’t know where to turn. The 2013 Law help guide is out in the world and all kinds of Victorians have been picking it up, right across Victoria.

As of this week, over 100,000 copies of the Law help guide have been distributed across the Victoria. It’s a huge number – of which we are truly proud – but even after all the research and planning that goes into putting a publication like the guide together, it’s only when you have direct feedback from real life people that you get any real sense of the impact it has on communities.

The Law help guide is a small, easy-to-use pamphlet about where to start if you think you might need legal help. The law can be quite confusing if you don’t know what you’re looking for, so the Law help guide talks you through your options and gives you an idea of which organisations might be able to assist you.

As the orders for the 2013 edition come through, we have been speaking to a range of people who use the Law help guide for various different reasons. Councils are ordering copies for people who come in to complain about services, libraries are keen to stock them for those who don’t know where to start their research on a problem of their own, and community organisations are finding that members of the public are coming to them with legal questions they’re not equipped to answer. Even law schools are realising it’s a great idea to give students a sense of what services are available to the public beyond just a private lawyer in a law firm.

The law can seem confusing and even a little scary if you don’t know where to start. It’s great to know that over 100,000 copies of the Law help guide are not only available for all Victorians, but that that it is making a difference to the lives of those who need it the most.

You can download or order the Law help guide here, or contact our publications team to find out more.