New Zealand Law Society - Helen Twentyman: Law centre work her passion

Helen Twentyman: Law centre work her passion

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Helen Twentyman

Working very long hours has been part of lawyer Helen Twentyman’s life for years now.

Some people have become aware just how many hours she works when she has sent them an email. It may well carry a time such as 12:30 or even 1:30am.

Helen is now in her eighth year as head solicitor of the country’s first community law centre, the Grey Lynn Neighbourhood Law Office (GLNLO).

“I do work very long hours,” she admits, “and that is to the sacrifice sometimes of my family.”

Fortunately she has a “very supportive husband, John, who does all the cooking. And he has helped me a lot with young children.”

John and her two children, a boy and a girl, “understand my passion for the law centre.”

In addition, they have come to different law centre events and this has allowed her children experiences different from others their age.

Helen also admits that she is “very dedicated and quite driven”.

But then, to progress the office has taken that, she says.

“To make it successful and to make sure everything is ticking along well, you have to work some long hours.”

So, what is it that drives her?

“I have a real passion for the community. I can see how valuable it is when people who can’t afford a lawyer get good legal advice when they are in trouble. Even when I was at law school, it was to help people.

“It’s always about the client. I think it is a luxury to be able to practise law and not have to charge the clients. It is a very rewarding thing to give back to the community.”

Helen first joined the office as a staff solicitor in 1995. That means she has been associated with this invaluable service for half its life.

The GLNLO was established in 1977 by a group that included lawyers Robert Ludbrook, Bruce Slane and Piers Davies.

One of the foundations of its establishment was Mr Ludbrook’s research into community law centre development overseas.

With this research and with support from the local community, Mr Ludbrook worked with Mr Slane and Brian Lynch to draft a report for the Auckland District Law Society on how and where a community law centre might be set up.

Funding for the Grey Lynn pilot project came from both the New Zealand Law Society and the Auckland District Law Society, with the project relying heavily on many lawyers providing volunteer hours.

The community support that was there from the beginning continues to be a key part of the GLNLO’s function.

“We have a lot of support from the community,” Helen says. “Our work is based on a very important relationship of trust with the community.

“I enjoy working with community groups, supporting them and helping them with their issues and legal matters.”

One of the most important relationships the GLNLO has is with Ngati Whatua. It is a link that goes back before the centre was even established.

The lawyers who set up GLNLO worked with Ngati Whatua and the strong relationship has continued over the decades since then.

Community legal education at Ngati Whatua’s Marae is just one of the benefits of this relationship.

Community education is, in fact, an important aspect of working with the not-for-profit sector generally.

Another set of strong relationships the GLNLO has is with the profession and the pro bono work it provides to help the centre.

One of its big supporters is law firm Bell Gully.

“Bell Gully have been a fantastic support to the office for quite a few years now. It is such an invaluable contribution to the office.”

The firm provides, pro bono, one lawyer one day a week, mainly helping with consumer, tenancy and employment matters. It also provides a group of lawyers once a week for the 5.30-7.30pm evening clinic.

In addition to this, the GLNLO lawyers received pro bono education when they attended Bell Gully’s in-house training this year.

Altogether around 15 lawyers come into the centre every week to help people in the community on a pro bono basis.

These include practitioners from Meredith Connell, Martelli McKegg Wells and Cormack, Simpson Grierson and Russell McVeagh. They come in and see clients for around half an hour, mainly on employment and consumer law matters.

This article was published in LawTalk 764, 28 January 2011, page 12.

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