September 14, 2015
After advising or representing clients in over 12,813 instances in just under five years, the Salvos Legal service is flourishing. To date, Salvos Legal has delivered over $35 million worth of free legal advice, and plans are afoot to expand their offices and services by 20 per cent a year over the next five years. Their twofold business structure allows the entirely self-supporting, unfunded commercial arm of the business to enable clients in need to access legal services.
“If someone is a drug addict and they have a police matter, and you only deal with the police matter, well, they’re still a drug addict,” says Luke Geary, Managing Partner of Salvos Legal. “As well as the damage to their life and their family and friends, they’re very likely to commit another crime and you’ll see them again in six weeks’ time.”
In accessing the Salvos’ huge network of services, from gambling, drug and alcohol services, to homeless and women’s shelters, financial counsellors, and social workers, Salvos Legal is uniquely positioned to address the holistic needs of their clients. “So if necessary, people may be able to access a full-time drug and alcohol rehab centre as well as get legal support.”
Salvos Legal Ltd and Salvos Legal (Humanitarian) Ltd function as two separate incorporated legal practices: one a commercial law firm that acts for clients including corporate, IT, property law and intellectual property, and the other a free law firm that acts for people in need. Whether coming in through Salvos Legal, or through any other Salvation Army services, people can be supported by the full range of everything the Salvos offers.
“Our purpose is to maximise social justice and to be a first-class legal service to people, irrespective of whether they can pay or not,” says Luke. It is this vision that has endured since launching just under five years ago.
Originally a partner in a commercial law firm, Luke ran a free law service in Sydney’s west for The Salvation Army. After five years as a volunteer, and after acting in over 750 cases, Luke was asked to establish their first non-profit legal service.
“I said that if we’re going to do this we need to ensure that it is a sustainable enterprise, not dependent on any government or other funds. There was no reason why The Salvation Army couldn’t utilise its brand and position in the community to channel goodwill and for businesses to direct their legal services in a way that was meaningful. So our business model is really the means to an end.”
The commercial side of Salvos Legal now keeps the pro-bono side sustainably funded. With all profits are sent to Salvos Legal Humanitarian, their big clients recognise that their money goes somewhere meaningful.
“We don’t take any money from the government, and we don’t take donations. We work with government at the local, the state and federal level, banks including Commonwealth Bank, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, as well as Lend Lease, CBRE, Transport for NSW, SBS Television, and Fairfax. We also strongly support the non-profit sector and act for non-profits.”
With a national telephone service, Salvos Legal already reaches out to people in rural and remote areas. For their on-the-ground presence, they plan to expand from 15 to 35 offices throughout NSW, Queensland and the ACT by 2020, with the aim of providing $25 million of free legal services every year. With The Salvation Army in 126 countries worldwide, the possibilities are endless. “I think this business model could be the future,” says Luke. “However it really does take a level of grit to run it like a business; you definitely can’t run it like a charity.”
Notably, Salvos Legal was awarded Australian Law Firm of the Year in 2014, as well Corporate Citizen Firm of the Year and Australian Boutique Firm of the Year at the 2015 Australasian Law Awards. “This marks us as a leader over every big law firm in the for-profit market,” says Luke. “What it says to the sector is that you can compete with the commercial world and win.”
In 2013 Luke was voted Managing Partner of the Year and Pro-Bono Lawyer of the Year in 2012.
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“As well as our clients, the legal profession has recognised this is a first-rate service. Hopefully other firms will see that it’s possible and not think small.”