8 July 2024

On Thursday 27 June, Fitzroy Legal Service, with the support of partner Hall & Wilcox, was pleased to launch The Law Handbook 2024, Victoria’s trusted, practical guide to the law.   

Marking the handbook’s 46th edition, the event was attended by Fitzroy Legal Service staff, volunteers and alumni, legal assistance sector representatives, and past and present handbook contributors.  

The organisation’s first full-time employee Julian Gardner AM who, alongside Dr Peter Cashman and Dr David Neal SC, was responsible for co-editing the handbook’s first incarnation in 1977, described the resource as embodying FLS’s commitment to community empowerment.   

“The idea was really about empowerment. It is one of the values of FLS, and it was one of our very early values,” Julian said. “We had this metaphor where clients would come in with a problem and slide it over the desk and say fix it, and we’d slide it back to the middle of the table and say let’s fix it together.” 

“So, the original version that emerged was to be in plain English, very practical in terms of having referrals and telephone numbers, and the target audience was a non-lawyer.”  

We went to about three publishers and they said it’s not worth publishing. No one is interested in the law, and Victoria is a very small market.

Julian Gardner AM

After persevering and being prepared to print copies from the office printer, Julian saw appetite for the country’s first practical guide to the law far exceed staff and publisher expectations, owing in large part to an interview Julian did with Australian journalist and presenter, Peter Couchman. 

Within eight days, Julian and his team had sold 4000 copies and had sold another 4000 by the end of the month. Along with members of the community, it was bought by people in law-adjacent professions including social work and education. It also appealed to practising lawyers across the state.  

“We got a lot of feedback from suburban lawyers who said this tells me everything I need to know to help the clients walking through my door.”  

Close to 50 years later, the handbook continues to be a valuable resource for many across the community legal sector, including some 270 FLS volunteer lawyers who offer free legal advice five nights a week through our flagship Night Service.  

Our junior lawyers get a great sense of comfort from having the handbook by their side, said Rebecca Johnston-Ryan, Service Director and Principal Lawyer, Night Service.  

The handbook allows our Night Service volunteers to access any information they need to address the key legal problems that clients have when they come through our doors.

Rebecca Johnston-Ryan, Service Director and Principal Lawyer, Night Service

“My favourite situation is when the client themself draws on the handbook to navigate their own legal problems. That’s what it’s all about.”  

Updated every year by over 80 volunteer legal experts, the handbook provides comprehensive information about the latest laws in Victoria that affect people in their everyday life. This spans everything from tenancy protections, family violence and custody matters, rights at work, consumer protections and making complaints against the police.  

Current Law Handbook Editor Dr Erin O’Dwyer described the breadth of laws covered in this edition as extraordinary. “This year we included updates to the sections on disability law, sex work, sexual offences and prisoners’ rights.”  

“The thing that struck me when producing the handbook was the reliability and commitment of the contributors,” Erin added.

With 85 voluntary contributors, not one single person dropped out or was unable to deliver their section within the timeframe, which is truly remarkable.

Dr Erin O’Dwyer, Law Handbook Editor

Despite the many changes in publishing and community legal education in Victoria, the core model and role of The Law Handbook have continued unchanged from when we produced the first, pioneering edition.

The Law Handbook 2024 is now available in hardcopy or in ebook format, to make your purchase and to find out more about the updated sections visit: fls.org.au/law-handbook/

Fitzroy Legal Service extends its gratitude to our partner Hall & Wilcox for their generous support in hosting the launch and joining us in advancing equal access to justice. 

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