First Step Legal is a unique community legal centre established in 2008 and co-located within First Step. We provide pro bono legal advice and representation to clients of our health partners who are actively engaged in treatment. We have an established criminal law practice and are delighted to have recently bolstered our offering with a highly-skilled family lawyer and family violence lawyer.
Our health-justice partnership was conceived with the understanding that legal issues create stress and pose a significant risk of compromising rehabilitation and destabilising the recovery of those dealing with complex mental health and addiction issues. This is detrimental not only to the individual, but also the wider community with the associated implications of relapse, mental health deterioration and a heightened risk of reoffending.
The First Step Legal model is more than a co-location of services. It involves an integrated and coordinated approach to supporting people dealing with complex issues by attempting to remove much of the stress of legal issues for our clients and allow them to focus on their recovery and wellbeing. Integrating legal services into a healthcare setting not only provides a direct referral pathway between health professionals and legal practitioners but also contributes to better legal and health outcomes for our clients.
First Step Legal strives to ensure that clients are well informed about the legal process throughout the proceedings, to enable them to make informed decisions. Treating professionals are advised of the status of the proceedings at each stage of the process, to ensure that the client receives adequate support throughout what can be a very stressful period.
First Step Legal works collaboratively with treating professionals to help stabilise and support clients in their recovery. This facilitates court dispositions that support the clients’ ongoing treatment and recovery in the community.
First Step Legal is a unique legal service in several ways:
- We are embedded within our health service partner organisations;
- The legal team works closely with allied health professionals to facilitate a legal outcome for clients which will support continued rehabilitation and recovery in the community;
- Positioning the legal service within a clinical setting facilitates a more trusting relationship between lawyer and clients, such that the lawyer becomes part of a triangular therapeutic model of care;
- Our methodology of practice involves allowing the client time to progress in their rehabilitation and recovery goals prior to the final hearing; this often necessitates matters being adjourned several times before they are ready to proceed to final hearing or resolution of their matter;
- We support those who are among the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised members of the community, with modest and recently acquired state and federal government funding.
First Step Legal is funded with the support of a number of long standing private individuals, families and foundations who have generously supported us and our work for many years. We are also currently funded through a grant from the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation (case manager and family violence lawyer), a grant from the VLSB+C and receive partial CLSP funding. We are excited to have been one of the successful applicants in the Victorian Law Foundation 2021 Victorian Knowledge Grant.
Recent feedback from our clients
First Step Legal is accredited with the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC).
Our Director of Legal Services, Tania Wolff, is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist through the Law Institute of Victoria, a current President and Director of the Law Institute of Victoria and a sessional legal member of the Mental Health Tribunal.
Eligible clients are patients of our health service partners who are actively engaged in treatment and may be facing criminal proceedings in Victoria or have concerns about family law or family violence issues. Clients agree to our integrated model of legal service delivery.
Where the legal service does not have the resources to directly handle the matter ourselves, we make referrals to practitioners who are experienced in practice in the relevant area of law. Our referrals are carefully considered and the outcomes are reported back to us by the practitioners to whom we have referred our client.
First Step patients and patients of our health partners, Windana Therapeutic Community, St Kilda Road Clinic and Star Health Family Violence department can ask to speak to a their clinician to enquire further.
Click here for a great overview of the program from our recent poster presentation at the Health Justice Partnerships conference in Melbourne.