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Online legal help leader recognised with award

Online legal help leader recognised with award

By Karin Derkley

Access to Justice Technology 


It is perhaps fitting that the COVID-19 restrictions prevented Justice Connect's Kate Fazio from picking up her Telstra Businesswoman's Award for Purpose and Social Enterprise in person.

Over the past couple of months, the various online legal help apps and programs Ms Fazio has helped develop in her capacity as Justice Connect’s head of innovation and engagement have proved invaluable in helping people affected by the restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the disease.

"It was a really interesting time to win the award because at Justice Connect we are currently dealing with unprecedented levels of demand," she says.

"There are a lot of people who have suddenly found themselves engaging with public services and charities for the first time and trying to navigate some the legal issues around that, whether navigating the rapidly evolving tenancy landscape or trying to work out whether their business is eligible for government payouts or whether they're personally eligible for jobseeker."

Services developed under the leadership of Ms Fazio, such as the online triage and legal help referral service the Gateway Project and the Pro Bono portal, which matches volunteer solicitors with people needing legal help, had already proved a boon during the bushfires. The spike in demand in January has doubled again over the past couple of months as a result of the pandemic, Ms Fazio says.

"Because of all the foundational work we've been doing, we have been really well-placed to quickly deliver a digital scaled up response to people who have suddenly found themselves having to navigate some really complex legal issues."

Fazio says the key to Justice Connect's ability to quickly respond to both crises has been that the organisation has its own in-house team of developers. "We made the decision to have our own team rather than outsourcing to contractors, which is the usual approach. That meant we were well-placed to really quickly deliver a digital scaled up response to both the bushfires and COVID."

"It's awful that all this has happened, but it has really validated our investment in these services. Having this awesome team that I lead at Justice Connect able to just roll up their sleeves means that we've been able to respond really quickly. If we were using our old methods to make those referrals we just wouldn't have been able to handle that volume."

Ms Fazio says that despite not being able to show up personally to receive her award, it was gratifying to have her leadership recognised by Telstra. "It can be hard to elevate access to justice into the broader conversation, so it was great having a corporate like Telstra providing that recognition. It helps to increase the profile of the issue and I think that's really important and very timely given the number of issues being raised by the bushfires and COVID."

She says she also appreciated that the awards recognised leadership in those working for not-for-profits, rather than being confined to business enterprises.

"I like the approach that recognises leadership and achievements in all different domains – particularly because we know that women on average are more likely to be employed in the caring and for-purpose professions."

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