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Since arriving in Footscray, Melbourne, as a refugee in 1980, Slater and Gordon interpreter Lien Pham says there’s one thing that has not changed in the Vietnamese community in which she works and lives – their dedication to working hard.

Upon her arrival in Australia, her new life presented her with an new opportunity to work as an interpreter for the Vietnamese community with Footscray law firm Secombs, which is now part of the national law firm Slater and Gordon. Lien had now been in this role for 15 years, and clients travel from as far as Dandenong and Noble Park – across the other side of Melbourne – for her services.

“My main role is taking calls from new Vietnamese clients with their enquiries,” she says.

“I work in any field of law – family law, Transport Accident Commission cases, workcover, personal injuries, wills and conveyancing. I attend to clients in the office; answer calls; I assist Vietnamese people with filling out forms - translations and affidavits – whatever it is that they feel they don’t understand. Then I make an appointment to go through all the legal documents.”

Lien said she had seen the Vietnamese community grow and prosper over the past 30 years in Footscray, and said it was due to the people’s hardworking mindset.

“I think there are a lot more Vietnamese people here now – there are lots of restaurants, shops and the market has slowly been taken over by the Vietnamese,” she says.

“They really work hard for life. When we first arrived, everybody was struggling financially. Now, Vietnamese professional services are springing up all over the place.”

Lien said importantly, Vietnamese people were becoming savvier when it came to their legal rights.

“Vietnamese people are becoming more and more aware of their legal rights. They come in and say they’ve heard about workers or motor vehicle accident compensation on the radio, and they find out they are able to claim for those injuries as well,” she said.

“Now I get many calls from people in the Vietnamese community. They call in with any type of problem – personal injury, family, selling the business, selling their properties – any type of case. I receive lots of phone calls in every type of question.”

Like many Vietnamese refugees, Lien’s story of arrival in Australia was one of hardship. After leaving Vietnam to seek refuge in Thailand, Lien and her fellow travellers were captured by Thai fishermen.

“They kept us on their boat until they finished their fishing. It took a long time, so my parents thought we’d died,” she said.

“We had to offer the Thai people our money, all that we had in diamonds and American dollars. They said if you don’t voluntarily give it to us, we’ll throw you into the water. Then they pulled our boat to a village in Thailand, where we stayed for two months in a refugee camp.”

During this time, Lien never stoped hoping she would make it to Australia, where her brother and sister had arrived the previous year. Eventually she made it, to a new life in the developing Vietnamese community, Footscray.

“Arriving in Melbourne? I missed my family very much, my mum particularly, but also there was a new world awaiting and a new life,” she said.

Slater and Gordon Footscray practice group leader and personal injuries lawyer Neil Andrews said Lien’s help meant the firm was able to communicate with many more people that needed its help.

“Lien and I have assisted hundreds of Vietnamese clients over the last 15 years,” he said.

“In addition, she helps our lawyers acting for people in family law cases, as well as property and small business cases. Lien is an invaluable part of our team, and reinforces the firm’s commitment to reaching beyond the limitations of language to assist those who need to access justice.”

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