Hayley Dean is proud of her flat shoes. Comfortable footwear, she says, is a crucial tool for legal aid lawyers. Her work life requires a lot of walking and takes her to courts, into police cells and prisons, to barristers’ offices for briefings, and to meetings with Salvation Army officers and community workers. Working for Legal Aid NSW in the Court of Criminal Appeal is a different world to her childhood with her school teacher parents in Newcastle and Lisarow on the NSW Central Coast. A graduate of the University of Newcastle, Dean, 34, went backpacking for two years then moved to South Australia to start her law career, then worked in Canberra and Campbelltown. She is now based in the central Sydney office of Legal Aid NSW in the Indictable Appeals section. She is one of the 484 lawyers in Legal Aid NSW which, in 2012/13, represented clients in 38,000 matters. Married, and a keen netballer, she received an honourable mention in the NSW Law Society’s Golden Gavel awards last year. She invites JANE SOUTHWARD to sample a day in the life of a legal aid solicitor.
At Legal Aid we like to use nicknames. Campbelltown is “C-Town”, Blacktown is “B-Town”, Liverpool is “Livo”. The pace can be fast and, at any time in appeals, I can have 35 cases on the go at one time. I enjoy criminal work. I like to participate in the process of helping people and I come from a long line of family members who work in public service. It is rewarding when you are trying to assist people through difficult things. It helps if you are a people person.
For most Legal Aid clients, the first thing they say when they meet you is that they want a “real” lawyer. It means Legal Aid solicitors can be seen as the underdogs in the court due to the work we are doing – and with our clients.
One day a week I work with the door closed, reading briefs. It’s an essential part of the job and you really need the headspace for it. In an appeal you are hunting for a mistake. Your attention to detail has to be switched on.