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The new CEO of Legal Aid NSW, Monique Hitter, says her vision is to provide access to justice for those who need it most.

Hitter replaces former CEO Brendan Thomas who she calls an “inspirational leader”.

“Brendan Thomas left Legal Aid in an incredibly strong position,” Hitter said in an interview with LSJ.

“He set us on a path of really ambitious reform, and I learned so much from him as his Deputy.”

Hitter has been with Legal Aid for more than 20 years. She was on the executive of the organisation for 15 years and was Deputy CEO for four years.

She says her focus in the top job is targeting services to meet the needs of clients using the resources at their disposal. She emphasises the importance of Legal Aid’s relationship with service delivery partners such as private practitioners, Community Legal Centres and the Aboriginal Legal Service.

“It’s really important that we have strong collaborative relationships with our service delivery partners so that we can provide access to legal services to people who need it across NSW,” Hitter said.

“I’m also determined to contribute as much as we can to meeting closing the gap targets.”

Hitter is passionate about ensuring Legal Aid remains an employer of choice, providing development opportunities for staff as well as attracting future talent.

As the daughter of a migrant and a refugee, Hitter’s family history had a massive influence on her career. Neither of her parents finished primary school and they each worked two jobs to send Hitter to a good school.

“My parents had really traumatic histories and instilled in me very strong values of fairness and justice,” she told LSJ.

“I bring that history with me in whatever I do.”

Hitter began her career as a social worker before coming to Legal Aid on a temporary contract as an entry level lawyer in one of their regional offices

“I really felt like I had landed in exactly the right place,” she said.

“I absolutely love the work that we do and how we do it. Our staff are just so committed and driven to do the best for our clients.”

Hitter has been acting as CEO since November 2021. In that time, she witnessed the resilience of her staff and clients.

“It has been an extraordinary time to come into the leadership role because the organisation has been challenged on so many levels,” she said.

“As an organisation, we are incredibly resilient and can adapt to challenges such as going in and out of lockdowns, the bushfires and recent floods.

“What has been incredible is to see how we as an organisation continue to put our clients and our staff first.”

The demand for Legal Aid continues to grow across the sector as clients are faced with increasingly complex problems. Hitter remains focused on meeting the needs of clients and providing for those who need it most. She is also passionate about protecting her staff from burnout and prioritising work life balance.

“Our lawyers and staff often go the extra mile for their clients,” acknowledged Hitter.

“We have to make sure that they are looking after themselves and that we are supporting them to find work life balance while working at Legal Aid.”

Following Hitter’s appointment as CEO, NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman praised her outstanding track record in ensuring justice for vulnerable people.

“Having spearheaded Legal Aid NSW’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Hitter is well-placed to take the organisation beyond the challenges of the past two years into its next critical phase in the provision of legal assistance services,” Speakman said in a statement.

Craig Smith, Chair of the Legal Aid NSW Board welcomed Hitter to the role, acknowledging the respect and support she had earned from the Board.

“Her commitment and passion for the cause of Legal Aid will ensure our continued success in serving the community and providing access to justice,” Smith said.