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Growing pro bono participation

Jessica Hatherall and Anna Jacobs from the Australian Pro Bono Centre talk about the expansion of the National Pro Bono Target, the resources now available to legal professionals, and the benefits of engaging in pro bono work.

“Pro bono can be an opportunity for staff to get involved in something new and innovative. It can give exposure to different practice and management methods, opening the door to adoption of innovative practices at a wider level.” — Elizabeth Carroll, ACT Law Society President.

In 2012 research found that at least a quarter of all Australians will experience a legal problem substantial enough to require a lawyer every year.1

While 3.24 million people live below the poverty line in Australia (13.6 per cent of the Australian population)2 only eight per cent of Australians are able to access legal aid,3 leaving many people without basic legal help. The recent bushfire and Covid-19 crises have also significantly increased the number of Australians requiring legal assistance. Now, more than ever, it is vital for lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to improve access to justice.

The Australian Pro Bono Centre (the Centre) is the centre of leadership for pro bono legal services and aims to grow participation and excellence in pro bono, its unique contribution to closing the justice gap and creating a more equitable and sustainable society. The Centre achieves this in three ways: by activating new and existing pro bono legal professionals; equipping legal professionals to do pro bono work; and connecting members of the pro bono ecosystem.

In particular, the Centre has created a number of resources and tools to assist law firms, incorporated legal practices, individual lawyers and in-house legal teams to undertake pro bono work throughout Australia.4 For example, the Centre’s website contains key information for pro bono providers and seekers in the ACT.5 The Centre also manages and administers the National Pro Bono Target (the Target).6

National Pro Bono Target

The National Pro Bono Target, which was launched by the Centre in April 2007, has been a huge contributor to the growth of pro bono in Australia by law firm solicitors and barristers. The Target encourages lawyers to undertake a minimum of 35 hours of pro bono legal services per lawyer per year.

Elizabeth Carroll, Chief Legal Counsel at IP Australia, President of the ACT Law Society, and In-house Counsel Pro Bono Steering Committee Member, said “The Target has really helped us to build motivation and momentum to set up our pro bono practice.”

On 1 July 2020, the Target was opened to in-house corporate and government legal team signatories who commit to use their best endeavours to achieve at least 20 hours of pro bono legal services per in-house lawyer per year. The 20-hour benchmark provides an incentive for the growth of in-house pro bono legal services and takes into consideration the unique context for in-house legal professionals.

Elizabeth Carroll explained why her team became one of the thirteen in-house foundation Target signatories:

“Having the Target, which is a nationally recognised standard used as a benchmark by the Commonwealth Government in the Legal Services Directions, has meant we can point to that when talking to our executives and setting up our policies. In addition, the Target has flowed through in our implementation. We have our policy that refers to it, we’ve adopted it for our team’s operational plan, and we can include pro bono work in the performance plans of participating staff so that they feel supported and the organisation recognises the important contribution they are making.”

There are now over 190 signatories to the Target — they have collectively reported almost 4.25 million hours of pro bono legal work.

The Centre aspires to achieve similar success with other legal professionals and encourages lawyers from the ACT and across Australia to sign up to the Target to highlight the shared nature of the responsibility to enhance access to justice across the legal profession.

Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme

The Centre established the National Pro Bono Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme (PI Scheme) to encourage in-house corporate and government lawyers to undertake pro bono legal work.7

The PI Scheme removes one of the key barriers for in-house, private and career break lawyers who wish to engage in pro bono legal work — the need for professional indemnity insurance to cover them for any civil claims arising from their pro bono legal work.

The PI Scheme provides free professional indemnity insurance to lawyers and paralegals working on pro bono projects approved by the Centre. A “project” can take many forms. For example, it might be legal work for a charity or community organisation; work referred through a pro bono referral scheme or organisation; work as part of a multi-partner project involving a law firm pro bono program; or a single legal case.

Manual and ‘What Works’

To assist law firms and in-house legal teams, the Centre created The Australian Pro Bono Manual8 to provide a practical ‘how to’ guide for establishing and developing a law firm pro bono program. It includes policy, letter and agreement precedents and provides practical advice on topics ranging from promoting a pro bono culture to risk management.

There are many pathways to pro bono, including through personal contacts, links between law firms (and their staff) and nonlegal community agencies, referral by clearing houses/referral schemes, legal aid agencies, community legal centres, Indigenous legal organisations, and professional organisations. However, many socially or economically disadvantaged or marginalised people facing a legal problem tend not to go directly to a lawyer for assistance. This is why partnerships with community organisations that have closer links to those in need, and can identify and refer people with legal problems, are essential for pro bono service providers seeking to make a significant impact on unmet legal need.

To provide practical advice on developing pro bono partnerships, the Centre created Pro Bono Partnerships — a Practical Guide to What Works. 9 This publication includes case studies, testimonials and commentary drawing on the wide-ranging experience of law firms, community legal centres, referral organisations and government agencies, as well as individual lawyers and barristers.

Resources for in-house legal teams

Australian in-house corporate and government legal teams and individual lawyers can make a significant contribution to pro bono legal services. In-house pro bono enables lawyers to give back to the community, enhances professional and personal development, and can bring longterm benefits for organisations which support pro bono work.

To support in-house lawyers and legal teams the Centre has a Pro Bono Legal Work: A guide for in-house corporate lawyers,10 a comprehensive guide and essential reference point for corporations looking to establish, manage or refine in-house pro bono legal programs, and individual corporate lawyers seeking involvement in pro bono legal work.

To encourage government lawyers to engage in pro bono work, the Centre has also published Pro Bono Legal Work – A guide for government lawyers,11 to provide practical guidance for government legal teams seeking to establish, refine or expand in-house pro bono legal programs.

To encourage pro bono work by in-house legal teams, the Centre has also formed an In-house Pro Bono Steering Committee. The Centre is thrilled to have a wide range of corporate and government lawyers on the Committee. They include representatives of the Association of Corporate Counsel Australia, the In-house Corporate Lawyers and Government Solicitors Committees of the Law Society of NSW, and the Centre.

The Centre is privileged to have on the committee the President of the ACT Law Society, Elizabeth Carroll, a pro bono champion and foundation in-house legal signatory, who has supported the Law Society’s ongoing involvement in pro bono.

Why get involved?

Engaging in pro bono work has numerous benefits, both for law firms and legal teams, and for individual lawyers. As Elizabeth Carroll stated, “Pro bono can be an opportunity for staff to get involved in something new and innovative. It can give exposure to different practice and management methods, opening the door to adoption of innovative practices at a wider level.”

The Centre’s CEO, Gabriela ChristianHare said, “Through pro bono, lawyers can apply their existing skills in a new context and develop new technical legal skills as well as different approaches to drafting, research, interviewing, communication and management. The expanded skillset and broader perspective that come from dealing with a pro bono client base can boost confidence, enhance professional development, improve wellbeing and afford lawyers a very deep and immediate sense of purpose.”

How to get involved

While many lawyers may want to do pro bono work, sourcing the work can sometimes be challenging. To assist lawyers in finding opportunities, the Centre has launched a Sourcing Pro Bono Opportunities Initiative to equip pro bono providers with practical resources to find potential opportunities and reduce barriers to pro bono participation.

The Centre has also published Pro Bono Legal Work: A Guide for Individual Lawyers which showcases the diverse range of opportunities available to lawyers who are interested in undertaking pro bono volunteer work in a personal capacity, outside of a formal program or through employment.

Another fantastic way to get involved in pro bono is through seconding a lawyer to a community legal organisation or non-government organisation. The Centre is grateful for the pro bono support it receives from a full-time secondee from Australian Government Solicitor. This support enables the Centre to engage in a broader range of activities than would otherwise be possible, and creates ties between the Centre and a government department.

Regardless of what type of law you practice, the Centre strongly encourages all lawyers to participate in pro bono work.

What next?

Local resources

Read the Pro Bono Guidelines for ACT Legal Practitioners at www.actlawsociety.asn.au/ practising-law/pro-bono/probono-guidelines

Sign up to accept referrals from the Pro Bono Clearing House or volunteer your time to the Legal Advice Bureau by contacting ACT Law Society Pro Bono Administrator Katrina McWatt on 6274 0300

National resources

Read about The Justice Project at www.lawcouncil.asn.au/justiceproject Australian Pro Bono Centre

Visit www.probonocentre.org.au Read the Australian Pro Bono Manual at www.probonocentre. org.au/aus-pro-bono-manual Read Pro bono legal work: A guide for government lawyers at www.probonocentre.org.au/ government_guide Sign up to the National Pro Bono

Target as a law firm, incorporated legal practice, individual solicitor, individual barrister or barristers’ chambers at www.probonocentre. org.au/provide-pro-bono/target National Association of Community Legal Centres

Find out about volunteering at Community Legal Centres at clcvolunteers.net.au/faqs

Search the national database of current volunteering opportunities at clcvolunteers.net.au


1. Christine Coumarelos, Deborah Macourt, Julie People, Hugh M. Mcdonald, Zhigang Wei, Reiny Iriana and Stephanie Ramsey, Legal Australia-wide Survey: Legal Need in Australia (Access to Justice and Legal Needs Report, version 7, August 2012) 13. 2. Peter Davidson, Bruce Bradbury, Melissa Wong and Trish Hill, Poverty in Australia 2020: Part 1, Overview (ACOSS/UNSW Poverty and Inequality Partnership Report No. 3, 2020) 9. 3. Law Council of Australia, ‘Access to Justice’, Justice Project (Web page) <www.lawcouncil.asn.au/justiceproject/access-to-justice>. 4. All of the Centre’s key resources mentioned below in this article can be found at www.probonocentre.org.au/ pro-bono-resources/. 5. As part of the Centre’s Sourcing Pro Bono Initiative, the Centre’s website has information for pro bono providers on ACT pro bono referral schemes and organisations at www.probonocentre.org.au/legal-help/ pro-bono-referral-schemes-and-organisations/#act, ACT community legal centres at www.probonocentre. org.au/legal-help/community-legal-centres/, as well as information on opportunities for assisting key client groups and organisations in the ACT at www.probonocentre. org.au/research/justice-project-report-2/. Information for pro bono seekers in the ACT can be found at www. probonocentre.org.au/legal-help/individual/act/. 6. Information about the Target can be found at www. probonocentre.org.au/provide-pro-bono/target/. 7. Information about the PI Scheme can be found at www. probonocentre.org.au/provide-pro-bono/pi-insurancescheme/. 8. The Australian Pro Bono Manual can be found at www. probonocentre.org.au/aus-pro-bono-manual/. 9. Pro Bono Partnerships – a Practical Guide to What Works can be found at www.probonocentre.org.au/ whatworks/. 10. Pro Bono Legal Work: A guide for in-house corporate lawyers can be found at www.probonocentre.org.au/ in-house-guide/. 11. Pro Bono Legal Work – A guide for government lawyers can be found at www.probonocentre.org.au/ government_guide/.

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