If you have found your way to this blog, I am guessing you are interested in disability rights or maybe you’re interested in what it is like to be an entrepreneur building a business based on your passion. Welcome comrades! I am Natalie, the Founder and Principal Lawyer of Equality Lawyers. Equality Lawyers is the law firm for people with disabilities, their families and supporters. This blog is a resource for those people, and anyone who wants to know more about disability rights law in Australia.
It’s tempting to use this first blog post to tell you all about the services of Equality Lawyers. But if you need to know about that pop over to our Services page. Instead this blog is all about our WHY. Why did I do this? Why a disability rights law firm? And my favourite question in the lead up to launching, why people with disabilities?
Before I started Equality Lawyers, I was a state government solicitor in South Australia; interesting work, just 8 hours a day, really comfortable. I had always worked as a government solicitor and in that time I had some amazing opportunities to learn from others, grow my skills and teach new lawyers. But the whole time I worked in government, I spent most evenings and a chunk of my weekend volunteering to do human rights legal advocacy. I founded Australian Lawyers for Human Rights’ Disability Rights Subcommittee, I published articles in law journals on the participation of people with communication disabilities in courts and sat on a host of boards and committees focused on promoting the rights of people with disabilities. I was super busy squeezing in what I was really passionate about, around my 9-5! When I was doing this advocacy, people with disabilities and their families would often contact me, asking for a lawyer. There were pretty limited referral options. There are amazing community legal centres, legal aid and some great lawyers here in Adelaide who can definitely help people with disabilities and their families, but there was no one who specialised in it. No one who knew the disability community or the issues that often affect people with disabilities.
So, in the words of Emma Watson in her address to the UN General Assembly: if not me, who? If not now, when?
I am a disabled woman, I am a practising lawyer and the time has arrived for me to take those skills and experiences back to my community, the disability community.
Disability rights law firm?
Traditionally, legal services have been provided to people with disabilities in a welfare model. Primarily people have been sent to their local legal aid office, community legal service or referred for pro bono legal services. Equality Lawyers is a paid legal service (to some, a bit controversial). We are offering a premium, paid legal service that specialises in disability rights law. I want to break the expectation that people with disabilities only need a free legal service or that a welfare model was the only way to respond to people with disabilities’ legal needs. Issues facing people with disabilities are specialised and they deserve a specialist response.
Of course, where people need a legal service and they would prefer not to pay, I will refer them on to the local community legal centre or a pro bono legal service within my networks. I never want someone to pay for a legal service if they could receive it for free. But, while I am pretty sure no one ever really wants to pay for a lawyer, people with disabilities and their families have the right to choose to do so. When they choose a legal service, they deserve to receive an understanding and inclusive service.
Fast forward 5 years, I hope that Equality Lawyers is one of many options for people with disabilities and their families to obtain private legal services. Legal services which are understanding and inclusive of disability rights.
Only people with disabilities?
Leading up to the launch, people have asked why I chose to focus on people with disabilities, their families and supporters. Intriguingly, I would often receive this question in person, while I sit in my wheelchair…?
In the same way that people are surprised it is a paid legal service, people are curious that I have chosen to develop a professional service tailored for people with disabilities. You don’t often see this in other professions like engineering or medicine. Disability has become more the work space for the social services. Equality Lawyers is here to disrupt that. Not to establish a culture where professions develop separate businesses for clients with disability. I would be strongly opposed to that. But to create a new wave of professional services that are inclusive and understanding of disability. I am here to lead from the front on this.
I hope you will continue to follow the journey of Equality Lawyers and refer people in your networks who need our service. Thanks for helping me to promote the rights of people with disabilities in your everyday worlds!