Baywide Community Law looks like any other professional law firm – except clients often ‘pay’ for legal services with donations of home-baked cakes or potted plants instead of money.
The law centre caters for people who cannot afford a lawyer and do not qualify for legal aid. Managing solicitor Bev Edwards says many people fall through these cracks and need help resolving a wide range of legal problems.
“In any one year we would probably see 5000 people. We deal with a lot of employment disputes, tenancy troubles, consumer law problems… I can’t tell you how many people buy lemon cars,” she says.
Family law cases involving domestic violence, care of children, dissolution of marriages and ACC disputes are other common areas where clients need help.
“We’re dealing with people who just don’t have the money,” Bev explains. “They just can’t afford it but if they try and proceed on their own it will prejudice their case. Law is a technical field with lots of procedures and jargon. They just don’t know the system.”
The Baywide Community Law service team in Tauranga
While Baywide Community Law’s four solicitors are dedicated to helping others, the organisation itself has been in need of help.
Bev says the Tauranga office, based on the ground floor of Harrington House, was completely unsuitable. “It was like a rabbit warren and there was no sound-proofing. People sitting in the waiting room could hear exactly what was being said about everyone else’s legal problems.”
So when the chance arose to move into a much bigger space next door, Bev jumped at it. “We knew what we wanted. The landlord was fantastic but we needed some special requirements, all of which cost money.”
Nonetheless, Baywide Community Law went ahead with the renovations, including a new office fit-out which features private consultation rooms, sound-proofed doors and frosted glass partitions. Matching furniture has also been donated by the Ministry of Justice from Tauranga’s courthouse.
“It means we can now help clients in a far more professional manner. They can be confident in our consulting process, knowing their information is confidential.”
Baywide Community Law service’s new Tauranga office
BayTrust has granted $30,000 towards operational costs this year, allowing Baywide Community Law to focus its energy on helping clients.
Bev says the need for accessible legal services is greater than ever before. “This money is a fantastic help. Now we can think about how we can grow moving forward.”
A second office is based in Whakatane, and outreach clinics are currently held in Kawerau, Opotiki, Omaio, Te Puke, Katikati, Waihi and Greerton.
More space in the new Tauranga office means Baywide Community Law can now also run education sessions on common legal problems every Wednesday. Topics such as cyber bullying, rights with police, how to draft a will and enduring powers of attorney are covered.
The organisation is primarily funded by the Ministry of Justice, and clients are means tested to confirm they cannot afford a lawyer on their own.
“We don’t turn anyone away. Basic information is for everyone. But if they’re outside our means test we then refer them to a lawyer who can help them and point them in the right direction.”
Staff work many hours unpaid, and the centre accepts koha (which is receipted) and receives heartwarming gifts like cakes, cookies and potted plants, Bev says.
“Sometimes people try to give their bus money but I always so ‘no, you can’t do that’. Some weeks we might collect $20 in donations. But we love helping people. We do feel like we are making a difference.”