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Celebrating our Legal Community Heroes

We are thrilled to announce the winners of the first-ever Smokeball Community Hero Award 2021.

Every day, members of the legal industry go above and beyond to deliver services to their communities. At Smokeball legal practice management software, we recognise these people as the true heroes of our local communities and wish to celebrate the impactful work they are performing.

We are thrilled to acknowledge an exemplary act or contribution through the presentation of the 2021 Smokeball Community Hero Award and reward the winner with a well-deserved luxury trip for two valued at up to $5,000.

We were inundated with so many phenomenal nominations; it was hard to highlight just one winner. We will also be recognising 10 runners-up who will each receive a special Smokeball prize pack.

The Smokeball team extends a huge thank everyone that took part in our inaugural Community Hero Award. The work of the Australian legal community is truly inspiring. We are immensely proud to be able to help shine a light on your achievements.

And the 2021 Smokeball Community Hero Award goes to…

Thomas Mathew - Unite Legal

Thomas Mathew of Unite Legal has been selected as the 2021 Smokeball Community Hero Award Winner for his significant community and pro-bono work, supporting the communities who often have the least power in our society – immigrants.

In particular, Thomas helps the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community in Melbourne. His most recent pro bono work has involved representing victims of racial discrimination, which garnered national and international media attention. Thomas has partnered with the South Sudanese Association of Victoria (SSAV) to inform and educate the community regarding the important and common legal issues often faced. He has also been recognised for his ongoing contribution and legal assistance to the African community at the African Afroshine Australia Awards for two consecutive years.

Thomas frequently supports and is a guest speaker at various community events such as 'Stronger Together- The Voice of South Sudanese Women Harmony Night'. Where he gave a talk to raise awareness on the current issues faced by the community, such as family day-care matters, child protection, intervention order and conveyancing. He also presents at Eid Mubarak Malaysian events advocating and educating on the legal issues encountered by the Malaysian community.  

And the 10 runners-up (in no particular order) are...

Trung Vu - LGA Lawyers

Since the inception of their legal practice, LGA Lawyers has proudly donated 5% of all legal fees to various charities that they hold close. Trung Vu and the team believe every business has the power to make a difference by giving to those in need.

Patrick Alan Holt - Hunter Newns & Holt

Patrick Holt has been integral in setting up a new Men's Shed in located in Romsey Victoria. A small steering committee of volunteers was formed to manage the project where Patrick responsible for providing business and legal advice, as well as take the role of secretary for the group. Patrick was the driving force who corresponded with Council, addressed media enquiries, liaised with local, state, and federal politicians, as well as updated interested community members.

The community now has a central gathering place for men of all ages to meet, converse, engage in community projects and promote and support men's mental health in the community, which is a core value of the national Men's Shed movement. Members can be as active as they choose to be and support each other, as well as the community at large. Patrick brought the original concept through the planning stages and eventually a constructed shed for the men and the community to be proud of. Over nearly 3 years, Patrick contributed hundreds of hours of donated time to this worthwhile project. The organisation is now thriving and growing at a solid pace.

Kerri Shaw & Gemma Bunner - Shaw & Bunner Legal

From their inception, Shaw & Bunner Legal has set out to play an active role within their community and to add value. Over the past three years, they have done this in many ways some key contributions include:

Pro-bono work for the Branxton-Greta Memorial Cycleway to help set up the construction of a cycleway connecting the two townships. Pro-bono work for the local Preschool to assist with their use of government funding to explore future development and expansion. Pro-bono work for the Greta Branxton United Cricket Club to update their Constitution.

Shaw & Bunner Legal regularly host free information sessions for local clubs focusing on the importance of estate planning. Kerri and Gemma are both founding members of the Hunter Valley Boutique Collective, a collaborative group that runs educational events and networking meetings. The group is responsible for the annual International Women’s Day event that showcases local successful businesswoman. In addition to the event, they donate proceeds to local charities, such as a local women’s shelter and the Branxton Girl Guides.

They have donated their services to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service as part of their Wills Week initiative where they drafted wills for several clients – with all proceeds going to the Helicopter Service. They are also active members and donated our service to the RetroTrail Hunter Valley, a local initiative to promote townships and tourism in the wake of COVID 19.

Sally Jackson - Crossing Borders

Sally Jackson is the owner of Crossing Borders, a boutique migration law firm. Sally is being acknowledged for her impactful pro-bono work, where she takes on one case every week and dedicates countless voluntary hours. Sally always ensures that the same level of energy and care is devoted to a pro-bono client as to a paying client. Sally is admired for infusing hope in all her clients, with many entering her office with a look of concern or worry and leaving with a smile and glint in their eyes.

Sally is also an inspiring leader, where her work ethics have influenced and motivated her team. Sally conveys that Migration Law is not just about getting visas for investors, or solving the problems caused by migration agents eager for a high turnover of clients. It can also be about reuniting families, helping a young couple start a new life together, or providing bright minds with the opportunity to contribute to Australia's future.

Katie Richards - Law on Earth

Katie has developed Law on Earth to address the access to justice crises. Law On Earth is a self-service tele law platform that teaches the community how to manage their daily legal issues. The platform facilitates lawyers with a minimum of 3 years post-admission experience to provide advice, review their work and onboard them as a client. Thousands of hours and over $200K have been contributed to this innovative and valuable project.

Katie has also been working with QUT Law School to have law students allocated to pro-bono matters. This enables law students to obtain work experience, so that they have a much better chance of acquiring a job after graduation. While providing community members with the support and advice required to help them through their legal issue - at no cost to them.

Katie has won several awards including, Employer of Choice for Women in Technology, Suncorp Innovator of the Year, Lord Mayor's Microbusiness, Business News Australia's Young Entrepreneur of the Year (Legal) x 3. However, the biggest win has been helping over 750 people since its launch in July 2020.

Despina Priala - Priala Legal

Despina dedicates a large amount of her time to a weekly radio show titled 'Talking Law with Despina', which offers free legal advice and general guidance to the local community in QLD and NSW. It provides information on the latest hot topics and changes to state and federal law. It keeps the community up to date with the law and how it may affect them in their everyday lives. Listeners also have the opportunity to send through questions, where Despina answers them all.

This is a highly valuable community service and is very much needed in today's society, where sufficient legal aid is available to limited people. This radio show provides listeners with some know-how and is intended to help them become well-informed - so that they can be proactive instead of reactive.

Caroline Grainger - Grainger Legal

Every year since the firm's commencement in 2016, Caroline and Grainger Legal have actively sponsored 'Run the Maine' a local running event in Castlemaine that raises funds for the local hospital. Annually Caroline not only competes in the event but rallies colleagues, friends, and family to join her. In the lead-up, Caroline utilises the Grainger Legal social media pages to engage the community and encourages them to attend the event as supporters or competitors.

Caroline, together with Grainger Legal are also supporters and sponsors of: The Ballan Brumbies Basketball Club, The Castlemaine Cannons Basketball Club, 16 Days of Activism - Against Gender-Based Violence and Walk with Her - for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Adam van Kempen - BVK Solictors

Adam has been a board member of the not-for-profit Byron Writers Festival (BWF) since 2012 and is currently in his third year as Chair of the organisation. Through his strong leadership and countless hours of volunteer work, he has steered BWF to its position as Australia's largest and leading regional writer’s festival. It is a huge drawcard for Byron Bay, and the community directly benefits immensely from the annual influx of visitors.

Adam is also a board member of Sprung Integrated Dance Theatre, a registered NDIS provider which affords ability-challenged people opportunities to develop and enjoy dance, theatre, and choir activities. Adam has been on the board since 2014 and has contributed many voluntary hours to this organisation.

Adam has a great sense of community, and through his firm sponsors the following local organisations: Liberation Larder Byron Bay, Byron Writers Festival, Sprung Integrated Dance Theatre, Byron Bay Football Club, Byron Bay Red Devils, Ballina Lions Club, NRMA Care Flight Variety: Children’s Charity, Rusty’s Byron Guide.

In addition to the above, Adam also undertakes frequent pro bono work for eligible clients who do not have the means to pay for legal services.

Emma Rowles - Winter Legal

Emma is very passionate about supporting her local community, in particular charities that focus on helping animals and the homeless. Emma also dedicates many hours to helping businesses that are just starting out (especially young people having a go at running their own business).

Emma supports many local businesses such as a neighbourhood café where she has sponsored $1 off coffees, a family day-care, and has donated furniture items to other businesses. She has further assisted various businesses by helping them secure articles and advertising in the local newspapers. This year Emma will also be sponsoring free meditation classes for the local community, assisting more small businesses that are struggling.

Shelley Baker - Nest Legal

Shelley is recognised for her uplifting community volunteer work. Shelley goes above and beyond to support the Coburg basketball community in the inner north of Melbourne. She donates many hours of her time to the kids, families, and coaches. Shelly organises various events for Mother's Day, Christmas and for the general wellbeing of the community especially during the tough COVID times.

Shelley always goes the extra mile for her conveyancing clients and spends hours nurturing customers and goes well beyond what is invoiced at settlement. The Next Legal team live and breathe her values and express that Shelley is an inspirational woman who selflessly goes about her day.

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