Tuesday morning at sunrise, lawyers and other Victorians raised a record $16,000 to support the work of the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH).
More than 260 walkers gathered on the steps of Parliament House to raise money to help disadvantaged clients access legal services.
Participants all donned “I Walked For Justice” stickers as they prepared to march from Parliament House to the County Court.
The event was run by PILCH, an independent, not-for-profit organisation. PILCH matches lawyers willing to do pro bono work with asylum seekers, people experiencing homelessness, seniors, community organisations and others in need.
The march began with Justice Chris Maxwell making a few impromptu remarks thanking PILCH and all the supporters in the crowd. PILCH Executive Director Fiona McLeay gave formal opening remarks.
Ms. McLeay explained the importance of funding PILCH. “Our work with asylum seekers is on the rise, but money for services like ours is drying up.” For example, PILCH recently helped an Iranian family challenge their rejection for refugee status. It was found that there was an error in their initial assessment and the family is now able to stay in Australia.
Despite the cold, drizzling rain, participants were all smiles as they marched through the CBD.
“This is a great way to start the day,” proclaimed one young lawyer as she caught up with friends in the Victorian legal community.
The legal parade was large enough to draw attention. “People aren’t used to seeing this [many lawyers]. One man asked me if the train had broken down,” joked another walker.
Event coordinator Toni Hynes was pleased with the turnout.
Walk for Justice, now in its fifth year, took place across Australia. PILCH in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria all walked on Tuesday.
The Australian Walk for Justice is based on the 10km London Legal Walk. The British event grew from 330 walkers in 2005 to more than 5,000 people raising £495,000 last year.
The money raised in Victoria on Tuesday was more than one-and-a-half times more than last year's total of $9,000.
Besides raising funds, the walk also raised awareness. Volunteer Coordinator TJ Riddell believes pro bono work is an ethical obligation of the profession.
“Lawyers often get a bad rap from the general public so it is great to spread the word about the good work that they do for marginalised and disadvantaged clients.”
Mr Riddell was stationed at the end of the walk with pastries, hot drinks, and an army of law student volunteers. PILCH relies on student volunteers to handle inquires.
“The fact that several of them woke up extra early to help out at the walk and then will be taking inquiries from clients with complex legal needs all day speaks to their dedication and sense of common purpose,” Mr Riddell said.
Extra police were called in response to the large number of walkers, but the biggest calamity of the morning occurred when the croissants ran out.
“Lawyers can eat a lot of fancy pastries,” Mr Riddell observed after the satisfied crowd left to begin their workdays.