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How duty lawyers can help with violence and the Family Law Act

How duty lawyers can help with matters related to violence and the Family Law Act.

From 1 July 2020, VLA is reducing general family law duty lawyer support at the Melbourne and Dandenong family law court registries. Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) (who provide assistance to people if their matter involves a history or risk of family violence) remain at these locations.

General duty lawyer services will continue to be provided for:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • people with cognitive impairment (such as an acquired brain injury or intellectual disability that affects their ability to represent themselves)
  • people who rely on an interpreter.

General duty lawyer services at regional locations are not affected.

See Financial sustainability changes starting 1 July 2020(opens in a new window).

Help from duty lawyers

Duty lawyers are lawyers who are 'on duty' at court. They give free legal advice and other services to people who are representing themselves in court on that day. The duty lawyers in court may be staff from Victoria Legal Aid, private lawyers funded by Victoria Legal Aid, or lawyers from community legal centres.

Duty lawyers may also decide to:

  • represent people who want to get their court hearing adjourned
  • negotiate with the other party, or the other party's lawyer, particularly to help in drafting consent orders
  • make a preliminary assessment to see whether a person may be eligible for a grant of legal assistance
  • help with urgent matters, like an injunction, particularly where children are involved
  • refer the person to another lawyer, and sometimes to community organisations or other support services.

A duty lawyer will sometimes be able to:

  • help with affidavits and other complex documents
  • help with amending their documents or advise about amendments
  • represent a person in an interim hearing if appropriate.

This help will depend on a number of factors, including the time that is available. See How duty lawyers prioritise clients and cases.

A duty lawyer will not:

  • appear as an Independent Children's Lawyer
  • represent someone in a final hearing or contested hearing in court
  • assist people on more than one occasion if they are able to afford a private lawyer
  • assist a person who is eligible for a grant of legal assistance if they have not applied for a grant
  • assist a person who has engaged a private lawyer.

How duty lawyers prioritise clients and cases

Duty lawyer services are free and are not means tested although duty lawyers will focus on assisting our priority clients.

If the lawyer is not able to help everyone on the day, they will give priority by considering:

  • how urgent the matter is (see Urgent matters)
  • whether the legal matter is one that fits within Victoria Legal Aid's policy guidelines about grants of legal assistance
  • the person's financial circumstances and whether they would satisfy the means test
  • if Victoria Legal Aid has previously refused a grant of legal assistance to that client
  • if there has been family violence and/or child abuse and neglect (or allegations of family violence or child abuse and neglect)
  • any other special circumstances that may make it harder for the person to represent themselves such as, literacy or language difficulties, a disability or cultural considerations.

Conflict of interest

Duty lawyers may not be able to give assistance to someone if another lawyer at Victoria Legal Aid has acted for the other party before. If there is a conflict, or perceived conflict of interest, the duty lawyer will try to refer the client to another legal service. The duty lawyer will provide procedural advice and information where this is appropriate.

Where to find a duty lawyer

Duty lawyer services are available at:

  • Federal Circuit Court Registries in Melbourne and Dandenong whenever Duty Lists are held
  • Family Court Registry in Melbourne
  • Melbourne Magistrates Court and other regional and metropolitan Magistrates' Courts.

See the Service directory—Browse all rosters for details about the days when our lawyers are on duty at these courts.

More information


Legal Aid Act 1978 (Vic)

  • s. 3—defines duty lawyer work
  • s. 26(1)—there is no charge for duty lawyer services

See Legal Aid Act 1978 (Vic).

Related information

For more detailed information about the role of duty lawyers in family law see ‘Duty lawyer manual for family lawyers – Chapter 1’ in Duty lawyer manual for family lawyers.

For the VLA duty lawyer roster see Service directory—Browse all rosters.