Louis Schetzer - former lawyer, 1990-1994
Louis Schetzer was the principal solicitor at North Melbourne Legal Service from May 1990 to May 1994. Now managing the policy and advocacy activities for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, IMCL spoke with Mr Schetzer about his time at NMLS.
“North Melbourne Legal Service was my first paid community legal centre job,” recalls Mr Schetzer.
“I have always remembered it as an amazing, formative experience, which really set me up for a lengthy career in community legal centres and legal aid.”
Since his time at NMLS, Mr Schetzer has worked in community legal centres, legal aid commissions and Aboriginal legal services in Victoria, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.
A legal service for the North Melbourne Community
Mr Schetzer recalls the very unique way in which the North Melbourne Legal Service was so closely connected with the community in both North and West Melbourne, making it a real hub of social change in the community.
“It was closely connected geographically and culturally with the public housing residents, the public housing estates in those localities, and really had its own place within those communities,” says Mr Schetzer.
To that end, he recalls the close working relationships fostered with other local community services, such as the North West Melbourne Community Health Service, the North Melbourne Public Housing Tenants Association and the North Melbourne Neighbourhood House.
“Ensuring the cross-referral of clients and ensuring we had a holistic response to resolving our clients’ needs was so important – we couldn't have done our work without those partnerships,” explains Mr Schetzer.
“We supported each other and supported our service users, our clients to get the best results for them.”
Mr Schetzer has fond memories of his time at IMCL, and particularly the clients from the close-knit community: from being invited to a “phenomenal” eight course Turkish meal by a thankful family he had assisted, to some local kids who he had assisted then asking Mr Schetzer to play a game of footy with them at the local housing estate, to one particular man who would come down to NMLS once a week for a cup of tea to talk about local issues.
“There was always that sense of camaraderie, a closeness with the community, and they are very significant memories that I still cherish.”
Community lawyering as a specialisation
Mr Schetzer believes that working in community law requires a truly specialist expertise.
“There are emotional demands put on lawyers in a climate when you are working with limited resources and with clients who have really particular needs,” he explains.
“There is a huge prevalence of people with mental illness, of people with disabilities, and people who are generally vulnerable because of their age or their socio economic circumstances.”
Mr Schetzer also recalls the large number of clients who did not speak English as their first language, and who relied on interpreters provided by the service.
“Being a community lawyer definitely requires a certain level of emotional intelligence, commitment and patience.”
Despite leaving the community legal sector, Mr Schetzer is still in awe of the lawyers who work for the vulnerable members of the community.
“Those lawyers go beyond the call of duty – they have a real passion for the issues, and real concern for delivering justice for disadvantaged people in our community,” says Mr Schetzer.
“They certainly don’t do it for the big bucks – they have a passion to change the system, and to make it fairer for their clients.”
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“Those lawyers go beyond the call of duty – they have a real passion for the issues, and real concern for delivering justice for disadvantaged people in our communit.”