A few months after she passed the gruelling tests for the New York Bar in 2009, Nerida Harvey swapped the whirlwind of working for one of the world’s biggest immigration law firms, near Wall St in New York, for the offices of the Law Society of NSW in Sydney.
The global financial crisis had captured another victim and, as Harvey’s work dried up sorting visas for foreign nationals wanting to work in the US, she looked at her life and decided she wanted to use her many skills as a solicitor to really make a difference.
“I was really disappointed to have to leave New York, a place I consider to be the greatest city in the world.
However, my situation was nothing compared to the women and men being laid off in the financial sector who had responsibilities and families in New York and couldn’t just up and leave like I could”.
Since 2009, Harvey has developed the Law Society’s pro bono services and, for the past year, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme in which parties try mediation to beat court delays and save on legal costs.
“Since 1992, the Society has received applications from hundreds of people each year, including people in prison that are convicted serial killers, murderers and rapists – the worst of worst,” she says.
“We cannot just not take a case because we don’t like what a person has done or been accused of doing.
That is obviously very hard at times but you cannot let your own views interfere with a person’s right to legal assistance.
The program encourages solicitors to offer legal services on a free or substantially reduced fee for people who cannot afford a solicitor and who are not eligible for Legal Aid,” Harvey says proudly. “Everybody has the right of legal representation that’s why I can’t just reject something without checking if it has merit.”
“I was studying at the University of Technology and got into law when I hurt my back and couldn’t continue with my plans to be a nurse. I decided that another way to help people would be to do law.