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Law Week goes online

Law Week goes online

By Karin Derkley

Access to Justice 


In its 40th year, Law Week has reinvented itself to take more than 90 activities online after its traditional line up was hit by COVID-19 restrictions.

Victoria Law Foundation (VLF) CEO Lynne Haultain says it became apparent around mid-March that Law Week was not going to be able to run in the usual way.

"Initially we realised that the courts were not going to be able to participate in the courts' open day, which is a core part of Law Week each year. And then, when the constraints came in around gatherings of more than 100, we realised we wouldn't be able to have the launch on the steps of the State Library or run the Law Week hub."

As stricter physical distancing measures came into play, it became evident that face-to-face events and activities would no longer be viable.

"None of us said out loud that there wouldn't be a Law Week this year, although I'm sure many of us thought it," she says.

But what also became increasingly apparent was that the sweeping changes being made in people’s lives and livelihoods as a result of the pandemic meant they were in desperate need of the kind of legal information that Law Week has traditionally made available.

"I realised that now was a time when information about civil legal issues – about things like housing, employment and consumer issues – was going to be more important than ever," Ms Haultain says.

"Suddenly people were not dealing with just one of these things, but all of them all at once and they would be needing timely and accurate advice from really creditable sources. That became the basis for our motto this year: ‘Now more than ever people need access to vital information about their legal rights and responsibilities'."

So instead of abandoning this year's program, the VLF got in touch with those who had already registered or showed interest in holding events, canvassing whether they were open to converting their events into an online presentation.

“We were acutely conscious in the first couple of weeks that the organisations we were talking to had bigger issues to deal with around getting people to work from home or closing down services. So we were really mindful around not harassing people in any way – but trying to put this opportunity in front of them for when they had time to think about it."

In those early days there was a lot of handholding of participants who wanted to be involved, she says. "There was a bit of nervousness from people who have been used to people just rocking up to an event. But, fortunately, our comms people have got incredible tech skills and they've helped people figure out how to use Zoom and how to use (event booking service) Event Brite."

It helped that for many video-conferencing was quickly becoming the norm. "Over the past few weeks everyone has become a Zoom or (Microsoft) Teams expert and community awareness and comfort with that kind of stuff has gone through the roof."

Within four weeks a whole new online program had been built from scratch, with around 90 activities being presented by more than 60 organisations. Ms Haultain says the majority of the original participants have turned their sessions into online presentations.

Ms Haultain will be hosting a series of interviews focusing on areas of increased legal and social-legal need due to COVID-19 with "all the people who know the legal nitty gritty of their particular area", including the LIV's Family Law Section Council Liaison Caroline Counsel, who will be interviewed on parenting arrangements and restrictions under COVID-19.

Also featured in this interview series will be the Women's Legal Service, Seniors Rights Victoria, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services,  the Office of the Public Advocate, the ACCC,Social Security Rights, the Consumer Action Law Centre Job Watch and Tenants Victoria.

The LIV is a sponsor of Law Week 2020 and is presenting three public webinars as part of Law Week, two on COVID-19 and What it means for Employers, and one held jointly with the Office of the Public Advocate on  Untangling Powers of Attorney, Medical Treatment & Guardianship Laws: A guide for the Victorian public.

Online exhibitions include the Confined 11 exhibition of The Torch’s Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community program, and Zooming in on the Peter O’Callaghan QC Gallery, which will tell the stories of the lives of some of Victoria’s most eminent barristers, told through portraits and artefacts held in the Victorian Bar’s portrait collection.

The online format means new sessions can continue to be added to the program as organisations take up the opportunity to present to a broader audience, Ms Haultain says. "People are realising that instead of say a library event, they can turn their event into an online chat."

For those not confident in hosting their own online event, VLF have their own Zoom channel and can help with the presentation.

You can find the Law Week program here.

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