Emma Golledge, Director Kingsford Legal Centre, Faculty of Law & Justice UNSW

2021 is a significant year for both the Faculty of Law & Justice, celebrating 50 years and Kingsford Legal Centre, celebrating 40 years of operation.

As part of celebrating KLC’s birthday, we have taken time to think about the Centre’s lasting impact across all our activities and our future direction. The challenge of the pandemic for us as an organisation as well as for our local community has also brought into sharper focus the importance of thinking about where we make a difference and the challenges ahead. 

The result – the Report: 40 Years of Impact documents important aspects of the Centre’s work across our key areas. This includes, providing access to justice, collaborating with our community and partners and undertaking systemic work. We have also reflected on key areas that have remained constant throughout our 40 years such as a focus on social justice and human rights and providing students with an immersive and authentic real-world experience. 

Compiling this Report, and delving back into the KLC records has reminded us that KLC was built on what the first KLC Director, Neil Rees describes as “energy and creativity” and the smell of an oily rag. Central to this founding work was the creation of a new type of clinical legal education course for Australia, one which took place in a working legal centre and which placed social justice concerns as central to the experience.  Throughout KLC’s history there has been a constant interest and expertise in discrimination law and later international human rights work. This evolved from the enthusiasm for the new discrimination jurisdictions of the early 1980’s to a deep understanding of the role of organisations like KLC in leading and monitoring Australia’s compliance with international human rights. KLC’s ongoing leadership and contribution in this space is a notable impact.

Our connection to our community is also a constant, from drumming up clients in the shops at Kingsford in the early 1980’s to our attendance at innumerable community events, fairs barbeques and outreaches over the years. Thinking about our impact in relation to our community engagement  over 40 years has shown us the constancy of KLC’s engagement and collaboration with other organisations and that we work best when we do it in partnership.

KLC has also been formative in the development and strengthening of the community legal centre movement. We have reflected that KLC helped shape and create what we recognise today as the expert community legal centre lawyer. KLC over four decades has had some of the best community legal centre lawyers work for it. These lawyers have taught UNSW Law & Justice students how to lawyer effectively, empathetically, in collaboration and always with an eye on broader systemic goals. Along the way we have also hopefully shown our students how to be resilient, adaptable and passionate lawyers – who also know how to have fun along the way.  Sadly, there were too many silly photos of this occurring at KLC to include in the Report.

KLC’s ongoing commitment to law reform and advocacy work as a key pillar of community legal centre lawyering is also important to mention as is the longevity and sustained commitment to our law reform campaigns. It is notable that some law reform interests have spanned the four decades, without adequate resolution – such as human rights protection in Australia, which we continue to advocate for.  KLC has also done a lot of heavy lifting in this space to support the broader law reform campaigns of the sector and our hand has been in many national and state wide campaigns and responses.

There can be a tendency in Impact Reports to focus too much on pure numbers of clients helped and so we have also thought about describing the Centre’s long-term impact on people. These stories throughout the Report talk about the big and small ways in which the Centre has impacted and made a difference on the big social justice challenges of the last four decades. Don’t get us wrong the client data is pretty impressive too - even given the slightly dodgy record keeping before computers. We conservatively estimate we have helped over 50,000 clients since our creation. We have also educated over 5,000 students and undertaken at least 250 law reform activities.

At 40 we also want to stop to recognise the broad range of supporters that have kept the Centre going in good times and bad – notably UNSW’s Faculty of Law  & Justice, our community partners, colleagues in community legal centres, pro bono partners and funders to name a few.

The challenges for our community over the last two years of the pandemic have been particularly significant. The Centre has had to change the way we work and respond to the urgent legal needs of the community. This has altered the Centre and the way we work in the ways we couldn’t have ever imagined, but we have worked hard to provide ongoing access to our Centre and connection to grass roots organisations.

Over the years the Centre has benefited from many millions of hours of volunteer time that has been provided to the Centre and our clients. We very conservatively underestimate that we receive a million dollars in volunteer help every year. More importantly our volunteers show huge commitment to our clients, going above and beyond to assist our clients. They also demonstrate to our students all the different types of career paths open to them and the rewards of pro bono work.

We are well aware, turning 40 can prompt a bit of a mid-life crisis - instead KLC is focussing our energy on some real soul searching to think about the things that are of most importance to the Centre and our work. At 40 we continue to believe in our values and reflect this in our work. We believe in the power of collaboration and collective effort, the strength and resilience of our communities and we remain passionately engaged in the big issues. We still do this with the energy and creativity of the Centre founded in 1981, but today are supported by the maturity and wisdom of our experience and the success of our longevity.  To all those that have contributed to the Kingsford Legal Centre story, in big ways or small, a big thank you. We look forward to our next forty years of making an impact.