Innovation key in improving access to justice

A CEO and co-founder of a not-for-profit legal service speaks about the role of innovation in tackling the access to justice crisis — with law students being integral to his solution.

Noel Lim, co-founder and CEO of Anika Legal, joined Jerome Doraisamy on The Protégé Podcastwhere they discussed how Mr Lim is helping to address the access to justice problem, focusing on the housing affordability crisis.

Mr Lim was also featured on a recent episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, discussing innovation in legal education.

Halfway through law school, Mr Lim decided he didn’t want to be a lawyer, but instead, he wished to center his career around social impact.

The idea for Anika Legal stumbled upon “by accident”. Mr Lim and an old university friend came up with the idea for a hackathon they participated in, and then turned it into a reality.

Anika Legal provides free legal support to people who can’t afford it. It works by having law students and student programs assist lawyers, with universities funding the program in return for providing students with practical legal education.

The focus area of ​​Anika Legal is in addressing the rental crisis — helping vulnerable renters who are struggling to maintain a safe home.

In its essence, Anika Legal seeks to combat the access to justice problem.

“Realistically, we need to do a whole lot more to address the problem of access to justice,” stated Mr Lim.

“This means doing as much as we can with the existing resources within the sector, but also trying new and innovative things to get new resources into the sector,” he explained.

Mr Lim and his partner identified two areas of untapped resources; first, only a small number of students were contributing their time to practical legal education, despite many wanting to be involved and not having the opportunity.

Second, they saw that universities wished to provide practical legal education to their students — affordably, and at scale.

“We’re focusing on getting new resources into the sector, student time and university funding so that we can meaningfully tackle the scale of the access to justice problem,” explained Mr Lim.

At first, they decided to focus on the affordable housing crisis, because they needed to identify an area that students could meaningfully contribute to, however, this led Mr Lim to understand both the depth and breadth of the issue.

“What really got our attention was some of the stories of the clients and the state of things,” he elaborated, “single mothers who are the sole carer for a child with an intellectual disability and there’s exposed live wires in the house and the landlord just ignores their request for this to be fixed despite it being completely within their rights as the tenant.”

“A renter who has gaps in their floorboard and it’s freezing in the winter and the landlord refuses to respond to their requests,” he said, “she is being made to choose between letting her baby and her family freeze or racking up utility debt for the heating bills which she absolutely can’t afford.”

The affordable housing crisis is in full swing, and renters are being forced to move into unsafe homes — “death traps”, like ones with carbon monoxide leaks and mold that can lead to serious respiratory issues.

The second thing Mr Lim saw was the sheer scale of the issue; “a third of Australians are renting now. More than half of those need repairs in their home. That’s millions of people.”

“Before starting, we didn’t realize how much work there was to be done there and how important the right to a safe home was.”

With his advocacy, Mr Lim hopes to shift the conversation where a safe home is not merely considered as a roof over your head, but rather, a quality home where one can keep healthy, keep up with the cost of living, afford to keep food on the table, and have a sense of community.

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Noel Lim, click below:

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