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Luke Geary, Salvos Legal Founder

Luke Geary is the founding partner of Salvos Legal, the world’s first self-sustaining social enterprise law firm. With Luke’s hard work and dedication to reinventing legal aid, in just over 8 years, Salvos Legal has provided over 21,500 free cases to help people in need. Luke currently leads the Not-For-Profit team at Mills Oakley Brisbane and remains at Salvos Legal as a consultant. You can visit Luke's LinkedIn profile here.

What is Salvos Legal?

Salvos Legal is a unique social enterprise law firm wholly owned by The Salvation Army, which exists to be a self-sustaining commercial enterprise so as to wholly fund lawyers for people in need. The Salvos Legal website describes itself as follows:

- Salvos Legal is a trusted legal adviser and a force for good.

- We partner with our clients to provide expert, practical legal advice in corporate & commercial, property, not-for-profit and intellectual property and technology law. Our practice leaders are specialists in their fields and joined us from national law firms.

- Uniquely, we are a social enterprise law firm – all of our profits are used to fund Salvos Legal Humanitarian, our humanitarian arm which operates free legal services for people in need in NSW, Queensland and more recently, Melbourne.

How and why did you establish Salvos legal?

To be very candid, I didn’t set out to establish anything, it just sort of happened! Back in 2003, literally within months of becoming a lawyer, I was asked by two young Salvation Army friends of a friend of mine, to take on a case for an elderly lady who needed assistance in a children’s court matter. I ended up helping in that case as a pro bono matter and after a while, I decided that I could maybe play some part in helping people by setting up a small, voluntary, open-air legal clinic once per week for just three hours. I did that for a little and then a few years later set up a second clinic in a different suburb for The Salvation Army. Then, after five years of volunteering and around 750 cases for people in need for free, The Salvation Army and I had a conversation about what this part-time voluntary service could achieve if it was full-time and professionally run. In the five years to that time (end-2009) we had seen some very significant outcomes for clients, including reuniting families from war-torn countries, helping people stay out of gaol and get into rehabilitation, keeping kids with their parents and having the parents properly supported, and helping people obtain social housing when it was otherwise denied to them. I was genuinely impacted by the outcomes that were able to be achieved throughout these years and felt that it was part of my Christian faith to become involved in these just causes.

So, when the Salvos came knocking (they tend to do that…), I said to them that if we were going to do this professionally, then we couldn’t use public money from government funding, we couldn’t ask donors of The Salvation Army to pay lawyers and the humanitarian clients obviously couldn’t pay for the cases themselves. I said that we had to find a model whereby the work could be self-funded, which would allow us to be self-determining and without any real political ties. So for me, thinking through a social enterprise model it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to work with The Salvation Army to seek to reinvent legal aid.

When did you begin to grow an interest in Social Justice & Equity?

Probably when I first started working with the Salvos. Prior to that I hadn’t really been involved in any human rights advocacy, any volunteering or any other benevolent activities. But seeing the social justice mentality of The Salvation Army certainly had an impact on me and made me feel like there was some part I could play, with my own skills-based volunteering. This would have been in about 2003 and it has continued since then.

Do you believe all lawyers should do an aspect of this in their careers/training?

I think all people should participate in a form of skills-based volunteering, including but not only lawyers. It is my belief that we should use our skills and our gifts to help those less fortunate. Doing so not only enriches the lives of those we come into contact with but certainly enriches our own lives and gives a sense of meaning and context to active participation in society.

Do you believe it is important for university students to be involved in social justice issues in law? If so, why?

Absolutely. The time that you have at University is probably the most important and opportunistic time for people to really understand the various issues that impact disadvantaged persons within our society. Within the University community students have the time and ability to study the issues, debate the arguments about ‘how’ and ‘why’ people become impacted by various issues, and put new thought into ideas about how to work on bettering those suffering injustices. Additionally, to the extent not tied down by full-time employment students have the ability to participate in short term volunteering opportunities to get some ‘front line’ exposure to the people in situations of injustice and talk with them to understand their plight.

As you leave University and begin your career (and for many, start your own family), the freedom to have the time and energy to explore these issues in such depth becomes very limited. Take the time and opportunity that is there now to get stuck into social justice issues, don’t procrastinate! For many of you, there will never be a time in your lives after University where you have so many like-minded, passionate, engaging and wonderful people to share and work on these important issues.

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