Large Christchurch-based law firm Mortlock McCormack has put its weight behind its local Community Law Centre (CLC) by seconding a staff member for a whole year. And it is challenging other firms around the country to do the same.
Community Law Centres provide free community legal services to communities across New Zealand.
However the long-standing legal institution has increasingly found it hard to retain quality lawyers in the tough employment market. Basically, they struggle to afford the salaries needed to attract and retain good senior lawyers.
The solution Mortlock McCormack developed was to second one of its highly-qualified senior staff to the Christchurch Community Law Centre.
The partner responsible for the initiative, Marcus Elliott, said they are a firm which places a great deal of emphasis on genuine support for their community.
“We have been involved with CLC over the past few years and became aware of the challenges they faced – in particular, difficulties retaining senior solicitors due to funding limitations.”
Mr Elliott said they identified an opportunity to assist CLC by seconding a member of its staff to CLC for a twelve month period plus a package of additional support.
“The person selected from our firm to take up the position is Peter Petaia. Peter will be employed by CLC but we will make a significant contribution towards his salary and will provide ongoing support to Peter and CLC including assistance in developing some specialist areas including litigation and judicial review. “
Mr Petaia started in law in New Zealand in 1994, Samoa in 1995 and Fiji in 1997. He practiced in Samoa for approximately ten years and has worked for the past two years doing commercial, civil litigation and employment work. Peter is a family man who has a keen interest in the benefits of social justice.
As part of the deal Mortlock McCormack will also provide training and other resources as required. In selected cases Mortlock McCormack will also accept instructions as counsel on a pro bono or contingency basis.
“Mortlock McCormack is involved in a number of community initiatives, including with the Christchurch City Mission, the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology and the Launchpad scholarship scheme. The firm encourages its staff to become involved in these worthwhile initiatives and to promote their own ideas for community projects.”
Kevin Campbell Supervising Solicitor at Community Law Canterbury welcomed the generous offer and praised the initiative of Mortlock McCormack.
“Our service does rely on the generosity of practitioners,’ he said. “We presently have around 100 Christchurch practitioners, employment advocates and resource management advisors who give their time freely after their work day to help out in supervising student caseworkers with our evening and Saturday morning advice services. Some of these volunteers have been doing so for 20 years. “
“The Mortlock McCormack initiative is new and will operate in addition to these services. It is also timely as we also introduce day-time appointments and out-reach clinics throughout the city,” Mr Campbell said.
Mortlock McCormack intends to campaign within the legal community to encourage other big firms around the country to take up the initiative and develop support packages for CLC’s in other centres.
“If the Law Centre in Christchurch is feeling the effects of wage pressures, it must be even harder in cities such as Auckland and Wellington,” Mr Elliott said. “We would like to spread the word and see if we can’t get other firms to get on board as well”.