Sam and Tim - Stary Norton Halphen

Sam Norton and Tim Schocker, Stary Norton Halphen Partners 

Stary Norton Halphen is the largest specialist criminal law practice in Melbourne and partners with IMCL to support the service to deliver high quality criminal law help to people who can't otherwise access a criminal lawyer. IMCL spoke with Stary Norton Halphen Partners Sam Norton and Tim Schocker.

From IMCL volunteers to pro bono partners

Mr Norton started volunteering at NMLS in 2007 when it was located in Victoria St, and found it eye-opening experience.

"I had worked in private practice before and I didn't truly appreciate the sheer quantity of people who needed assistance that really couldn't get it from a private law firm or direct from Legal Aid," he explains.

"Sometimes you felt less useful than others because you would be asked to work on cases that were outside your direct area of expertise, but often you could make a really significant difference to people."

Mr Norton met his now colleague Tim Schocker while volunteering at NMLS.

"I was a law student when I started working in the NMLS office during the day, and I also took on a role at the Tuesday night drop-in service and continued to do that for a couple of years while I was studying,"  explains Mr Schocke recalling his start at NMLS in 2008.

Once Mr Schocker began practising at Stary Norton Halphen, Legal Aid cut back much of its criminal law services.

"We identified a need there and started specialist criminal law drop-in night service that Sam, myself and others provided a lawyer to attend each week."

Today, the firm supports IMCL's own in-house lawyers to manage their complex criminal law files.

A supportive partnership

The lawyers at Stary Norton Halphen support IMCL as consultants when there is need for advice in specialist criminal matters.

One such example was a case regarding manslaughter, which fell outside the scope of IMCL’s expertise.

"We were able to give advice over the phone to guide them through the process of the interview," says Mr Norton.

"We have done that sort of work to help deal with things that are that are more complex, but we have also done work to assist in the day-to-day and small procedural queries too."

The professional responsibility

Both lawyers feel a sense of professional responsibility to be engaged in pro bono work alongside their private practice.

"I do feel a bit of a sense of responsibility to stay involved," explains Mr Schocker.

"My passion and interest in criminal law arose in part out of the work I did at IMCL. Through having done that volunteer work, you come to appreciate the need for pro bono work, and for services like IMCL to have some specialist advice when they need it." 

"In some ways I feel like I have contributed a bit to IMCL over the years, but equally I have got a lot out of it.

Mr Norton agrees.

"We often talk about giving back, but you actually get a lot from doing it yourself."

The need for ongoing CLC support

IMCL’s work in the community, particularly in the outreach services at Ozanam house and the Women’s Hospital, is an essential service that has big impacts, explains Mr Norton.

"It just can't be overstated how important it is for people who fall within a gap to be able to get assistance.

"The knock-on consequences of small criminal matters, particularly in the current era, can be absolutely enormous. Someone loses their license, they lose their livelihood, and that impacts on their family."

He adds that Stary Norton Halphen is committed to supporting IMCL in providing access to justice for people in the system who otherwise do not have access to legal representation.

"Unfortunately, these community services can't be provided across the board by private firms and legal aid, so the need for CLCs has ever been more acute."