How First Step is providing unique medical, mental health and addiction services

First Step Legal
First Step Legal
Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
1 November 2021
First Step is a medical, mental health and addiction services hub in the heart of St Kilda, Melbourne.

First Step Legal (FSL) is a unique pro bono community legal service operating within First Step. It assists some of the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised members of the community – ensuring that the stress of dealing with a legal matter does not derail rehabilitative efforts.

Virgin Unite is incredibly proud to support FSL as it works to challenge the unacceptable with a compassionate and innovative approach.

Tania Wolff, Legal Director of FSL, shared what makes FSL so unique: “We’ve embedded a legal practice within a clinical framework - where the legal team forms part of an integrated therapeutic team. Working with our clients’ doctor, therapist, or mental health nurse, means that our legal staff become part of a triangular therapeutic model of care, facilitating a strong sense of trust with clients."

First Step Legal
First Step Legal

In 2020-2021, despite the challenges of the pandemic, FSL assisted 177 clients with 241 legal matters, including multiple casework files and close to 200 offers of legal advice and information.

“Everything just felt so comfortable. I felt secure even though things around me were not stable. I was able to sort my legal, mental health and whole life all in one place. They led me on a new path, which I would not have been able to take otherwise. Would have been totally stuffed without First Step Legal, but instead I gained the skills I needed to get a job, got my friends back etc. Everything in my life is coming together,” said Sally*, an FSL client.

I felt secure even though things around me were not stable. I was able to sort my legal, mental health and whole life all in one place.

As clients continue to face new and increasing challenges as a result the pandemic, the FSL team is facilitating increased phone and video contact with support services, family and other sources of support.

"The whole premise of me getting mental health support, addiction support and legal support all under the same umbrella is incredibly beneficial and it's changed my life. In the past I fell within the cracks. There was no actual team working for me. Everything has come together since I've been at First Step. I'm really so grateful for my experience,” said Bec*, an FSL client.

First Step Legal
First Step Legal

FSL keeps in regular contact with its clients once matters have been resolved and continues to focus on wellbeing, access to services, and new or ongoing legal needs. Its clients surveyed in 2020/2021 reported that 88% had not been charged with any further offences within 12 months, and 100% felt more hopeful and positive than before working with FSL.

“The outcomes we have achieved this year would be impossible without our incredible staff and volunteers,” said Tania. "We are also incredibly grateful for the support from Virgin Unite – it has been critical to enabling First Step Legal to assist our clients and has also allowed us to inform, educate and empower many about family violence and what they can do to feel safe in their lives.”

To learn more about First Step Legal and to support its important work visit the website and read its most recent annual update.