Sue-Ellen Hills had two daughters under four when she sat down to watch a program on community legal centres that changed her life. Street Practice on ABC TV in 2005 told the story of budding lawyers working in Kingsford Community Legal Centre. It was a gamechanger for the Killara mother who had studied medical science and had worked in medical sales before taking a few years off to care for her young children. “I had never wanted to work in criminal or corporate law but when I saw the show about the practical help solicitors offer through community legal centres, I knew it was for me,” Hills recalls. She enrolled to study law at Macquarie University via distance education and, six years on, after practical and volunteer work at the Redfern Legal Centre, she started working as a solicitor. Just over a year ago, Hills started as the solicitor in a unique partnership with Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The Health Justice Partnership began in May 2015 as an early intervention program, designed to identify and intervene in legal issues that frequently exist for patients in hospital. The Redfern Legal Centre knew the potential for legal issues to cause or compound health problems. It is the first hospital based legal service in NSW. About 100 people have received free legal help under the grassroots program. Hills, 45, tells JANE SOUTHWARD about the job she loves.
It’s a strange job being a solicitor when you and yourself in the post-natal ward of a hospital holding someone’s brand new baby. But I have seen quite a few mums who had been in a domestic violence relationship and had left the partner. They come to hospital to have the baby and are trying to navigate their way around parenting the child with a dad they are no longer seeing and where there is an apprehended violence order in place.
Before I studied law, I had always thought lawyers were either commercial or criminal and I didn’t realise there was such an idea as community legal centres and being there with people and really helping them along that path.
Most people have no idea solicitors do this kind of practical work. A lot of what community legal centres do is access to justice and that’s getting people to understand that the problem they have can have a legal remedy.