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From clearing to connecting

In grade 4, growing up in the wheat and sheep country of the South Australian Mallee, Fiona McLeay experienced one of her earliest memories of injustice and unfairness. Her good friend, the daughter of Irish immigrants was mercilessly bullied:  “I still remember thinking “this just doesn’t make any sense – why should how she talks make any difference to how she is treated?  Thirty-five years later, no one has ever given me a satisfactory answer to that question.”

That girl grew up to become the CEO of what is now one of the broadest reaching pro bono law organisations in the country. Fiona is on my list of people to interview properly, but this milestone is one I wanted to mark right now: She is the CEO of the newly formed Justice Connect (formerly PILCH NSW and PILCH Victoria. Yes, those names are very weird – more on that another time).  Before Justice Connect, she was the Executive Director of PILCH Victoria. Before that she was a lawyer – but like Mark Woods in the last blog, one that confounds the stereotype*.

Fiona’s career (and personal interests) has pivoted around addressing the imbalance between those who ‘have’ a sense of their place and rights – and the resources to protect them, and those who ‘have not’. Through the early years of her legal career (in practice as a commercial lawyer), Fiona was resolute in believing law firms would benefit from a culture of corporate social responsibility; at Clayton Utz she played a pivotal role in the introduction of a coordinated pro bono program which grew into a significant firm wide CSR program nationally and a separate foundation – both of which still thrive today.

She was the first General Counsel to be appointed at WorldVision (when the concept an in-house counsel in charitable organisations was rare). She has been awarded international scholarships (Harvard and NYU) and is a regular speaker at legal institutions and conferences such as the 2013 PILnet annual European Pro Bono Forum. In 2012 she was appointed Deputy Chair of the inaugural Advisory Board to the ACNC.

But I’ve been working with Fiona on and off for a few years now – most recently on launching the new organisation and I just can’t let another hour go by without making mention of her. She is ‘clearly in’ as far as reallyinterestingpeople go. And Justice Connect was officially launch in Melbourne last night.

Watch was a few notable types had to say about PILCH and Justice Connect – you know, people like former High Court Judge Michael Kirby AO CMG (who kicks of with a sly dig at Sydney), the current Human Rights Commission President Professor Gillian Triggs, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC , Julian Burnside QC, Professor Peter Cashman, and two people who played integral roles in the  foundation of the State PILCH’s – Professor Andrea Durbach (Director, UNSW Australian Human Rights Centre) and Professor Denis Nelthorpe. Expect to laugh a bit. (No, really)

And listen to her talking to Jon Fain on ABC 774 on Thursday this week – with none other than Geoffrey Robertson QC on the Conversation Hour (although you will have to wait – Geoffrey has the floor for the first half hour). And watch this space. Because this is one thoughtful, smart, focused woman.

*The very best kind of reallyinterestingpeople do this.

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