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.

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How new community website Everyday-Law can work for you

With the launch of our new legal information website, Everyday-Law.org.au, you now have a one-stop-shop to access all the best easy-to-understand legal information online. The site can help make your plain language materials more accessible to the public and help you support your clients on a range of common legal issues. Here’s how. 

Everyday-Law is a major new website produced by us at the Victoria Law Foundation. It brings together almost 1,500 carefully selected resources developed by organisations like yours, from across the legal sector, government and beyond.

As a result, it makes resources produced across the sector now easier for people to find – by including them in a site that is friendly, yet authoritative, easy to navigate and designed specifically to meet the needs of people in the community searching for legal answers.

While the website is primarily for the public, people working in the legal sector or government can also use the site to find the best available plain language materials for their clients.

All the resources included on the site have been carefully checked to make sure they are accurate, up-to-date and relevant – and they are ranked, so your search will highlight the best available resources for that issue.

Where your clients need more specific legal advice, you can search the site’s Law Help section for free or low-cost legal services to point people to the most appropriate organisation for them. This part of the website provides an online version of our popular hardcopy Law help directory.

“Everyday-Law is the result of nine months of hard work by the foundation to take online legal information to the next level. We’ve come up with an audience-focused site that helps the community find legal answers, search for legal services and learn more about the legal system,” said the Victoria Law Foundation Executive Director, Joh Kirby.

“We encourage organisations across the legal sector, the courts and government to link to Everyday-Law from your own websites, as a resource for the community and for your organisation,” Joh said.

Encourage your organisation to link to www.everyday-law.org.au from your website. We can even provide a logo and a short description just contact our Everyday-Law team on 9604 8100 or email contact@everyday-law.org.au.

Unique video series helping young people understand their legal rights

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A series of videos produced by community legal centre, Youthlaw, is helping young people better understand their rights and access the legal information they need. The first Beyond Appearances series is used in police training and aims to improve relationships between homeless young people and police. A second series educates youth workers and other professionals about legal issues affecting young people. The most recent Street Law Series helps young people to know their rights and avoid getting into legal trouble with Police and Protective Services Officers.

 Youthlaw has found that videos work to make complex legal issues and processes easier to understand. We spoke to Annie Davis, Education Co-ordinator and Outreach Lawyer, at Youthlaw, to find out more.

This is the third time the foundation has funded you to use videos for community legal education.  Why do you keep returning to this medium?

We find videos are an excellent way to get a message across to people and get them thinking about the law and young people in a different way. People anywhere with access to the internet can access videos online and get the legal information they need quickly and easily, It’s also a great way to get information across to young people who are not confident reading or writing because of literacy issues, or to new migrants with limited English.

We started with our series Beyond Appearances in collaboration with Frontyard Youth Services as a way to try and improve relationships and understanding between homeless young people and police in the CBD area. The video is still being used by police in their training. It features young homeless people sharing their experiences of sleeping rough and their interactions with police, both positive and negative, which is really powerful.

Our second series, educates youth workers and other professionals who work with young people about legal issues affecting them. With the help of a cartoonist, the videos were able to make often complex legal issues and processes easier to understand. The videos have been viewed several thousand times. It is a fantastic way for workers to get the training they need as our in-person seminars were often booked out and not always in a location for remote and regional workers to be able to attend.

Our most recent Street Law series tells the story of a young person who comes across a police officer or a Protective Services Officer (PSO). We hope that by watching these videos, young people will be inspired to find out what the law says in each situation and this knowledge might help them or their peers avoid getting into legal troubles by misunderstanding police or PSO powers in future. We also hope that the series will empower young people who may feel marginalised by their treatment by police or PSOs by linking them up with easy-to-understand information about what their rights are and how to make a complaint if those rights are violated.

Your videos generally tell stories to highlight a legal issue.  Why is this effective?

We’re finding the story-telling approach makes legal issues, which can be quite abstract and frankly boring for young people, a lot more ‘real’ for them. We’re finding they prompt serious and thoughtful discussion for young people. Young people get quite involved with the stories and want to know why, for example, the magician got a move-on notice and then a fine and what he can do about it. We hope that if they or their peers find themselves in similar situations in future they will recall what we talked about during the session and go back to our website to find out what the law says and how they can seek legal help.

 Your videos have young people, even some of your clients, informing the scenarios? What are the advantages/disadvantages of creating peer-supported community legal education? 

The stories in the videos were developed in collaboration with students at Youthworx Media and most were based on real experiences. The students there also gave us a lot of feedback and guidance on how to make the videos engaging. Their input has been crucial to the success of these videos as we’re finding young people watching the videos can relate to the stories and the characters.

Peer-supported community legal education has been so beneficial to this project but perhaps just make sure you have enough lead-in time and resources to make collaboration as effective and fruitful as you can – in retrospect it would have been great to have more time and greater scope to involve young people in a project like this even more.

Your videos have used animation and live action footage – how do you choose which filming method?

We ended up using animation for a number of reasons, such as restrictions on filming in locations such as train stations and representing the police and PSO characters convincingly. Another important reason is that it would be confronting for a young person appearing in one of the films to become a recognisable ‘poster boy’/’poster girl’ for, say, weapons searches. Instead, we had young people narrate the stories in their own words and characters as cartoons as way to get around that issue but still keep their voice authentic.

How do you choose the topics for your films?

We were finding more young people were coming to us for legal information and advice about interactions with police as well as PSOs following their introduction to metropolitan train stations over the past few years. With changes to the law, search powers have become a lot more complex. We were concerned that some young people were getting into legal trouble for things like resisting police or refusing to state their name and address, when if they had understood the law in that situation, they might have responded differently. We then consulted with Youthworx students to pinpoint what aspects of the laws around police powers and PSOs young people were most unsure about.

How do your videos reach their target audience?

The videos are available online on the Street Law page of our website at www.youthlaw.asn.au/street-law and you can find them on our Youtube channel www.youtube.com/youthlegal. We released and promoted each episode through social media, such as our Facebook page and Twitter account. We also have a limited number of DVDs available to order and an Education Kit for youth workers, teachers or others who work with young people to use.

What’s the next 12 months look like for Youthlaw?

We just secured funding to develop a mobile and tablet-friendly website that will work much like an app and which we hope will make legal information about dealing with police and other authorities even more accessible We’re consulting with young people to find out exactly what legal information they most want to know about and how we can best get that information to them using a mobile or tablet-friendly website. We’re hoping to incorporate the video content we’ve produced in Street Law into that resource so it has a second life into 2014-5. We’ve also been fortunate to have our Youthlaw Online program funding continue on so we can deliver more legal services in more responsive ways to young people living in remote, regional and rural areas across Victoria.

Apply for Victoria Law Foundation’s General Grants to support your legal project by 18 March 2014.  Visit our website, to find out more.

Christmas legal help

Christmas is a busy time for everyone and with so many different things to consider, it’s easy to forget the legal problems you might encounter. You can still access the Victoria Law website for plain language legal information throughout the silly season.

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We’ve all been in that situation after the presents have been handed around on Christmas day and something’s not quite right. You might have a gift that needs to be exchanged or returned for any number of reasons. It’s important that you know what your rights are if something you bought or received is not quite right.

On the Victoria Law website you can find information from a range of sources about your rights as a consumer. You can find information from Consumer Affairs Victoria about what your shopping rights are, what to do if you need a refund and how to protect yourself. There is an easy English fact sheet on refunds that explains what your rights are if you change your mind or there is a problem with a product. They also have information on warranties in the shopping tips fact sheet including what to do if a warranty expires and how to organise a repair or replacement.

You can also browse information from the Consumer Action Law Centre on the site. Their self help kit on consumer guarantees can help you deal with defective goods or services. It even includes a template letter that you can use if you want to get a refund or replacement.

We hope you have a relaxing and stress free festive season, but remember Victoria Law is there if you need it. More legal tips and updates to come in the New Year!

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.”

Useful tools for Victorian consumers new to Victoria Law website

The findings of a national survey of legal need published in October offered an important snapshot of legal problems in Australia and the steps Australians take (or don’t take) to address those problems. Consumer legal problems, related to the buying and selling of goods and services, were the number one issue for most Australians who took part in the survey, accounting for one in five legal problems.

The Consumer Action Law Centre has now added some great new resources to the Victoria Law website to help Victorians better understand and address consumer legal problems or disputes.

Some of the topics covered include consumer rights and responsibilities, motor vehicle issues and dealing with debt or debt collectors. Importantly, their self help kits include sample letters and templates to help you resolve a problem or dispute.

Dan Simpson from Consumer Action Law Centre says the self help kits are designed to offer practical help to Victorian consumers.

‘We hope that they do more than just give information about the law. We want them to help consumers take action and assert their rights’, he says.

‘Our legal team develops these resources when it identifies an absence of free and practical information about a topic, and it updates them as the law evolves and as new legislation is passed.’

A great example of this is the What if I’m not happy with something I bought? self help kit. It provides advice about consumer rights and responsibilities and also includes a sample letter that you can send to the person or organisation who sold you a particular good or service. If you need to take the matter further, there is a follow-up fact sheet on resolving disputes at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which is where you could end up if you can’t solve the problem yourself. This outlines what VCAT is for, how it works, how to take action and what to expect at a VCAT hearing.

Victoria Law also connects you with valuable resources from Consumer Affairs Victoria, who provide information to help you understand your legal rights around refunds and returns, warranties and promotions, buying and selling property, renting and holiday accommodation, motor car issues and more. And it provides an up to date list of organisations you can contact for legal information and advice.

To find these and many other valuable resources, visit www.victorialaw.org.au. You can also read our response to the legal needs survey or explore the findings of the survey.