Louisa Gibbs - Special Counsel, Geni & Kebe Lawyers (DLA Piper Africa) & IMCL lawyer
Louisa has spent much of her career as a lawyer in developing countries (Vietnam, Solomon Islands and Senegal). She believes in using legal skills to progress social justice, whether it be in Melbourne or elsewhere in the world. On IMCL's 40th Anniversary, she recalls her time as Principal Lawyer at IMCL in 2005 - 2008.
"For over three years I conducted the weekly outreach at Ozanam Community Centre. I met great clients and was delighted to be invited to attend a very special puppet show performance that a number of them had developed.
"Perched on milk crates in a North Melbourne Car Park under the stars, we watched an amazing, heartfelt story of life's challenges and joys, written and puppeteered by Ozanam clients. And to top it all off, the soup kitchen was there to give us all a bit of sustenance at the end of the show as we congratulated the performers on their successes!
"What that night reinforced for me was the interconnectedness of all we do. Although I had met these women and men as clients and worked with them to resolve a variety of legal issues, here they were enfolding me in their creative project - I truly felt part of the Ozanam community.
"I think it is so fitting that stories are being collected to celebrate the Inner Melbourne Community Legal's 40th birthday, because it is the stories that I remember most.
"Like the time we successfully overturned citylink fines for a taxi driver client and he took us out to dinner. 'I want to take you to a traditional Somalian restaurant,' he said. So we followed him on our bikes down the back streets of Flemington to a wonderful restaurant that could have been the back of someone's house, and shared a fantastic meal. Over the space of a few hours, I heard his story of fleeing Somalia as a 16 year old, eventually arriving in Australia on his own after everyone else in his family had died.
" 'This whole thing with the citylink fines,' he said. 'It's only because I couldn't read the letters they kept sending me.'
"It gives you pause to think.
"The stories of each of our terrific volunteers is another great memory - students, lawyers, all of them with a commitment to make this world a better place. In the half hour before our evening service would start, we would hear about each other's week as we wolfed down pizza. The contributions of these volunteers is at the heart of the community legal centre story.
"Plus our dedicated board members - all of them volunteers too. A shout out to John Mangan, a great thinker and leader indeed, whose involvement over such a long period of time has been such an asset to the organisation's governance.
"And the story of service itself, starting in the Uniting Church, then graduating to the 'broom closet' in Melrose street. There must be thousands of people who are grateful to Peter Almond, William Houghton and Peter Collinson for bringing legal services into the community in this way. I am certainly one of them.
"Being part of NMLS/IMCL is like being one runner in a relay. In 2005 I was passed a baton by those who had created a very special place over a period of 27 years, and then in 2009, it was time for me to pass that baton on. And I did - to the wonderful Richard Stewart, an evening volunteer who had a successful career at one of Australia's biggest law firms and gave that up become the next Principal Solicitor of this special community legal practice. I think he made the right choice, don't you?!
"Thank you NMLS and happy birthday!"
You can find out more about IMCL's current staff here.
“I think it is so fitting that stories are being collected to celebrate the Inner Melbourne Community Legal's 40th birthday, because it is the stories that I remember most.”