Legal assistance for those failed by the system

HPLS provides vital legal assistance to people experiencing homelessness. Over 350 pro bono lawyers give their time to HPLS at free legal clinics. Through their hard work and commitment, they have a significant impact on the lives of homeless people. 

So who are these lawyers who dedicate themselves, and why do they volunteer with HPLS?

This article is the first of a series where HPLS lawyers will discuss the work they do and why they do it. 

Shikha Sethi and Ishwar Singh began their involvement in HPLS through the graduate program at Allens. Both spoke of the importance of the internal culture at Allens that fully supports their pro bono work. 

For Shikha, volunteering with HPLS has helped her to build both legal and communication skills. 

‘HPLS helps to build communication skills through learning how to empathise and legal skills through learning how to identify legal issues. I have also developed knowledge in new areas of law as a result.’

For Ishwar, exposure to different matters, laws and procedures has given him a knowledge of the law in its entirety. 

‘Working at a law firm means that you are often dealing with sophisticated clients who all speak the same commercial language. The biggest motivation and the biggest challenge of HPLS work is to assist people who face significant obstacles when interacting with the legal system in order to achieve and assert their basic human rights.’

The challenges of the work are apparent to both Shikha and Ishwar. There are issues regarding communication with clients, managing expectations and difficulties in maintaining client contact. 

One of Ishwar’s first clients was sleeping rough and had mental health issues. Unfortunately, despite his efforts, it was not possible to make contact with the client again after the initial visit. 

Shikha also commented on the difficulties of communicating clearly with a client who has a mental illness. Both lawyers saw this as an opportunity to learn and to build empathy. 

Underlying the challenges and rewards however is one fundamental principle that motivates both Shikha and Ishwar: ‘for those of us who occupy a good place in the system, we have a responsibility to assist those whom the system has failed.’

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