Community Engagement award for Pro Bono Telephone Advice Service

Mr Jack Ding has been awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Community Engagement for launching a pro bono telephone legal advice service.

The service provides free telephone legal advice on employment and underpayment matters through a partnership Jack established with the Marrickville Legal Centre in Sydney’s inner west.  

Pro bono work has always been important to Jack, who is National Manager, Legal Services in the Office of General Counsel. After he joined ACU, he took advantage of the Community Engagement Time Release Policy to make a contribution.

“I think it’s part of my duty as a lawyer to give back to the community in some way,” he said.

“When I moved here to work, I made a personal commitment that I would do some pro bono work, and so I started by reaching out to the Australian Pro Bono Centre.”

Through the Australian Pro Bono Centre, Jack was connected with the Marrickville Legal Centre. He worked in collaboration with the legal centre to develop the free fortnightly service, which draws on the centre’s resources to better support clients.

“I can leverage their framework, their processes, their clients, and then contribute in a way that is easy for me to do, once a fortnight,” he said.

One key aspect of the project is its permanence: it doesn’t rely on Jack, or any individual, to ensure it can continue. Instead, the service operates under a Memorandum of Understanding between ACU and the Marrickville Legal Centre.

“I took care to make sure we had a framework in place because sometimes you can have one-off opportunities for community work, and one person does it and then if they [leave the organisation] or if they don’t do it anymore, it gets dropped and is forgotten,” Jack said.

The MOU means other lawyers from ACU can continue the work even if Jack is unable to do so.

“That need for employment law advice in the community isn’t going to go away any time soon. I can see a need for this on an ongoing basis in the future,” he said.

The service focuses primarily on employment law and underpayments. It’s an important area of need, particularly during financially challenging times for many workers and businesses.

Clients call the service with a diverse range of issues. One of the most common, according to Jack, is the underpayment of hourly rates.

“Even if it’s only a few dollars off an hour, that adds up,” he said. “A few dollars is a few hundred dollars a week and every year it’s $5,000 or $6,000. Over a couple of years, it’s in the tens of thousands, so we tell clients, ‘Don’t ever think this is not worth pursuing. Let us look into it even if it’s a few dollars off an hour.’”

The telephone service is open to everyone and has offered advice to clients from all walks of life. Jack said that while some clients may have researched their situation thoroughly and just need reassurance about the avenue they’re planning to pursue, others are more vulnerable, with language barriers and other socioeconomic factors affecting their ability to independently resolve their problem.

“A person might be a refugee or newly arrived, and English is not their first language. In some cases, they have no idea where to begin. Perhaps they don’t want to create a confrontation. Those are the people we really want to be the best advocates for, and for whom we can create the most impact.”

Jack said winning a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award is special to him as it demonstrates the value ACU places on community work.

“Not every employer gives us this option, so I’m really fortunate to be given the chance to do it and to be supported from an organisational point of view.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to has been really interested in what I’m doing; everyone’s been super positive, so I’m really grateful for the support. It shows that the university is not just talking the talk on its mission and community engagement. It’s walking the walk.”

Jack Ding

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