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Meet the lawyers sending waves of charity to impoverished Indonesian families.

The stereotypical surfer image is one of a sun-tanned “dude” with dreadlocks who lives out of his van; somewhat at odds with suit-wearing corporate lawyers.

Yet the lawyers from the Australasian Surfing Lawyers Association (ALSA) are having a swell time flipping this stereotype on its head. Led by lawyer Matthew Warburton and barrister Peter Strain, ALSA offers free membership to lawyers who surf or want to learn to surf.

“Our membership is for ‘those who have an interest in the surf and the law’,” says Warburton, who is the General Counsel at Hudson Recruitment in Sydney. “So, anyone really.”

“Anyone” includes a number of high-flying legal eagles, including Tony McAvoy SC, the first Indigenous silk in Australia, and Veronica Haccou, the solicitor who represented Bali nine members Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

“We have a real mix of people and skill levels, from senior counsel and young lawyers to Chris Wren QC a 67-year-old barrister from Melbourne who comes on our annual conference every year,”says Warburton.

As previously covered in a 2015 article in the LSJ, ALSA contributes to the continuing professional development of its members by organising annual surfing conferences. The conferences are held in tropical resorts around the Pacific – usually in Indonesia – where attendees present papers on surfing-related legal topics, such as the “drop-in rule” and liability in the water.

“Have a look on our website – the papers are all there,” Strain says. “You sit in the resort pool and have a legitimate conference. It’s just convenient that the timing of the conference is based around the tides and the winds.”

Although surfers in the past have  earned a reputation for being somewhat selfish in their pursuit of perfect waves, the lawyers at ALSA are determined to upend this stereotype as well. Since its inception in 2004, the group has contributed all the money raised by its conferences to SurfAid and the East Bali Poverty Project (EBPP), an Indonesian charity that helps to bring clean water, education, food and sanitation to mountain villages on the east coast of Bali.

Warburton and Strain became interested in the EBPP after witnessing the poverty that many Balinese children grow up in.

This year ALSA increased its funding to EBPP to sponsor three Balinese children to go to school in their remote village of Jatituhu.

“This is the first year we have specifically sponsored three individual children,” says Warburton. “The cost for us to sponsor these children to go to school for one year is $2,115. It really shows that you can do a lot with very little money. Lawyers in Australia could do a lot to help out these communities.

“The thing I noticed the most was not a lack of opportunity but how hard opportunity is to come by for these children.

“In Western worlds or first world countries, we tend to think that if you work hard and you’re smart you will be successful. The reality for these children is that’s not always the case. You can be as smart as you like or willing to work as hard as you like, but life just gets in the way.”

The students keep in contact with ALSA through letters they write during handwriting classes at school, which Victorian lawyer Veronica Haccou translates and replies to. Haccou, Principal of the Bright office of Victorian firm Nevin Lenne Gross Solicitors, grew up in Jakarta before moving to Australia after high school and studying law at Deakin University. She says most Balinese families are poor subsistence farmers who feed themselves from what they grow on their land and make very little extra money.

“When these children go to school each day they can’t work on the farm or contribute to feeding the family,” Veronica says. “It can have a big impact on the economic situation of the family. The aim of ALSA’s sponsorship and support via our letters is to help these children finish their education and realise the opportunities it can offer.”

Indigenous silk Tony McAvoy says joining and donating to ALSA is a great way for lawyers to get involved in charity work. McAvoy, who learned to surf on the Gold Coast when he was 15, is known for strongly advocating ALSA’s charitable causes – along with fearlessly charging 10-foot waves.

“What ALSA shows is that if you can relate charity work to something you have a personal interest in, then it’s not a huge stretch to think about how you might assist people’s lives in that area,” says McAvoy. “For me, having activities and interests outside of legal practice is very important. If it can be something that keeps me active, all the better.”

The group plans to visit this year’s sponsored students during its 2017 conference in Bali and East Java in August. Warburton says there are still a few places left on the conference and welcomes all interested lawyers to come along or donate.

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