Issue 39: April 2008
Welcome to the April 2008 edition of the e-Newsletter of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre (the Centre). We welcome your feedback/contributions/ideas. In this edition, read about:
|Lawyers in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria will “Walk for Justice” at 7am on Monday 19 May 2008 to coincide with a similar walks being held in London and various other locations around the UK.
In the UK last year, the London Legal Support Trust Walk, now in its fourth year, raised more than £200,000. The amount raised by the walk has more than doubled each year.
The inaugural “Walk for Justice” in Australia is a fundraising event for the Public Interest Law Clearing Houses (PILCHs). The PILCHs meet the needs of individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds and community support organisations by facilitating their access to pro bono legal assistance from member law firms, barristers and corporations.
Lawyers who walk will pay a registration fee and obtain sponsorship from their colleagues and members of their community. Corporate sponsors are now being sought.
Amy Kilpatrick, Director of PILCH (NSW), said the walk represents a chance for lawyers to participate in a national and international fundraising event and assist social justice initiatives.
“Forget the half-marathon — this is something all legal professionals can do that will make a real difference to the community,” she said. “I strongly encourage all legal professionals to participate in this grassroots, inaugural event, which will no doubt grow into a landmark event on the legal calendar.”
Cristy Dieckmann, Services Coordinator at QPILCH, explained that “the walk also represents a great opportunity for lawyers to contribute to legal services for disadvantaged clients by a means other than pro bono file work and for the community generally to help facilitate under-funded civil law work for the disadvantaged, such as the homeless and people experiencing extreme debt.”
People in Melbourne may find it harder to get out of bed but they would be rewarded for braving the cold. “It might be a chilly Melbourne morning but there will be a warm cup of coffee for all participants to enjoy at the finish-line before heading into the office”, said Michael McKiterick, lawyer at PILCH (Vic).
Like the walks overseas, the walks will be led by senior lawyers and judges and will pass by some of the significant legal landmarks in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
Chief Justice de Jersey will lead the walk in Queensland, which will start at the quadrangle at the Law Courts complex on George Street and will involve a 5km walk along the Brisbane River.
In Victoria, the walk will commence at Parliament House in Melbourne, and will continue along the Yarra River and back up to the Supreme Court.
In New South Wales, the walk will commence at the War Memorial in Sydney and continue through Hyde Park and the Botanic Gardens before concluding at the Supreme Court of NSW.
Law firms and chambers are encouraged to get walking teams together for the event.
For more information or to register, please contact your local PILCH:
|pilchconnect gained a new senior lawyer, Liz Morgan, a former solicitor with Victorian Legal Aid, in March. Liz plans to focus on obtaining the necessary funding for a comprehensive 3-year pilot program for PILCH’s not-for-profit (community) organisations legal service.
Liz has been in the job for just a few weeks but has hit the ground running. It’s hard to make out whether her sense of the sizeable job ahead impels her to speak at a “hundred miles an hour” or whether that’s always been her way. She ticks off the tasks to come.
“We need a web-portal with plain English resources and fact sheets,” she says. “These would cover commonly asked questions that community organisations need to know around issues like legal structure, governance and compliance with a range of laws.”
pilchconnect has developed a series of training seminars, in conjunction with PILCH member firms, on common legal issues experienced by not-for-profit organisations, but it is also looking to set up training for the wider legal profession in many of these areas.
“With further funding we will establish a telephone advice-line, and we are also involved in law reform and advocacy,” Liz says, adding that the regulation of NFPs is more complex than for small businesses, and yet these organisations often have limited resources and are heavily reliant on volunteers.
Advocating for improved NFP regulation is one of pilchconnect‘s priorities. There were three government reviews in relation to the NFP sector last year.
“We hope this current State and Federal government interest means the time is ripe for change,” Liz says. “We are working closely with the peak stakeholder groups such as VCOSS and Volunteering Victoria and others. It’s also an exciting time because the new federal government has set up a Social Inclusion portfolio and is looking closely at the important contribution made by the NFP sector and volunteers â€“ our service provides practical legal support for the sector.”
PILCH is running legal information seminars in Melbourne on major issues for NFPs. These include:
* Legal health check
The response to these seminars has been positive with requests coming in thick and fast from metropolitan and regional Victoria to hold the seminars further afield.
“Every day we receive calls asking us to ‘run them out here’,” Liz says. “We’re hoping to be able to do so, as well as use website technology, such as Pod casts, so that we can reach as many areas as possible. The number of calls just confirms how much this service is needed, as was evident in the comprehensive research PILCH undertook before establishing the service in late 2007.”
The service might use a kind of a medical “triage” model to help as many as possible despite the limited resources at their disposal.
pilchconnect will assess queries from community organisations and filter calls. Those who need general legal information may be referred to legal fact sheets on the website, while those requiring more specific help might get legal advice from a lawyer via the telephone advice service, and those with complex legal queries might be matched with pro-bono legal assistance via legal firms (as PILCH currently does).
Liz points out that all the elements of the service will feed into each other, so that issues raised through the telephone help-line may generate further fact sheets as particular areas of concern are raised. At seminars, a question posed by one community representative can elicit a response from another who has already encountered that situation. If others have also experienced the same issue, the service will look to ensure that legal information and advice is made available to address this issue.
In her previous job as a solicitor with Victorian Legal Aid (VLA), Liz worked in policy, particularly looking at client access and equity issues. Though VLA is set up to deal with individuals, the question of providing assistance to community groups did come up.
“I attended a conference about the needs of newly arrived communities in Victoria and there was a session on community building,” says Liz. “Delegates noted that people in their communities were able to access legal aid if they hit trouble and were facing criminal proceedings or family breakdown, but they wanted to get legal help earlier – to help them establish organisations which could work to support their communities and avoid these problems further down the track.
“They wanted legal help to set up NFP groups and apply for funding and grants, but they had difficulty negotiating the often complex laws which regulate this sector. And there was no legal service to help them with these issues.”
After visiting the Kimberley region last year, Liz was impressed by the indigenous community organisations there.
“They stressed to me how, for them, giving attention to issues of structure and governance at the very early stages had ensured the long-term viability of their organisation,” says Liz.
In her role with pilchconnect, she’ll have the opportunity to assist community organisations and help them lay the legal foundations for a strong future.
“I’m happy to be working in a service where legal funding and pro-bono resources are being used proactively, to â€˜help the helpers’ set up and run strong and viable organisations, for the benefit of the Victorian community.”
For background information about the new pilchconnect service see “Helping the Helpers — Australia’s first specialist legal service for community and not-for profit organisations” in Issue 33: November 2007.
|A desire for a career change, memories of Australia and love saw Maria Rautala make the move to Australia from her native Finland. Leaving her private practice, she joined the Centre as Project Officer for Policy & Research in March 2008.
Maria has practised law for six years with two law firms in Finland, doing mostly contract and commercial law and some litigation work. But she decided to move from private practice to “something more fulfilling” in the last year. Her interest in pro bono was sparked during her time as a paralegal in a private firm when she worked on a project with the Finnish Bar Association.
“The project’s aim was to encourage more mid-tier firms to become involved in pro bono,” Maria said. “I became enthusiastic about pro bono but found it difficult to do as much pro bono as I would have liked in my daily practice.”
But the desire to do pro bono work wasn’t the only reason for Maria’s “sea change” to Australia.
For a start, she is not new to Australia, having lived in Melbourne for a year when she was 16 as part of an exchange program.
“It’s quite common in Europe to do an exchange in high school,” she said. “Most people go to the US but I wanted something completely different.”
The English that Maria had begun studying at the age of 11 or 12 in Finland became polished during her Australian sojourn. She had further chance to hone those skills when she spent two semesters during her undergraduate law degree in London at Middlesex University, where she took courses in business and company law, consumer law and criminology.
Since gaining her Bachelor of Law, Maria has also completed a Masters degree, specialising in private international law and cross-border securitisation.
But Maria’s new start in Sydney was not just because of a desire to reacquaint herself with the country of her teenage experiences or to speak the language again. Love played a big part.
“In October 2006, I met my fiancÃ©. He’s half-Finnish, half-Australian, and he was visiting family in Finland when I met him through a friend. He moved to Finland in July last year, but the plan was always to come and live in Australia. Now he’s a PhD student studying English Literature at UNSW â€“ just at the other end of this campus,” she said.
|The Centre welcomes final-year law student Ashkan Kebriti as an intern to its team. Ashkan is working on preparing the Pro Bono Practices guide, which explains the pro bono activities of the larger law firms so that students can decide on organisations of their choice.
Ashkan himself is committed to law, but still not sure about which area he will focus on.
“I like property law, but I can’t distinguish at this stage what areas I’m interested in and what I’m good at,” he says. “We don’t get much opportunity for practical internships. You have to go and search them out, so you don’t realize how different the law is in practice.”
Ashkan’s interest in pro bono work and criminal law was ignited after helping out the Duty Solicitor at the Downing Centre in Sydney.
“It [criminal law] was far more interesting than when I studied it,” says Ashkan, who has also done a full-time summer clerkship at Mallesons.
But Ashkan’s law career might simply not have happened if he had not changed his mind at the last minute.
“I was good at maths and science so I had planned to do medicine. At the last minute, I changed my mind, thinking, I’m only doing this because other people are telling me to,” he says.
Though he struggled in his first year of law, and had doubts about himself, he’s now thrown himself wholeheartedly into legal pursuits. As well as uni studies and the internship — which amounts to around eight to 10 hours a week for the semester — Ashkan is working as a clerk with Mallesons two days a week.
“I’m a bit crazy,” says Ashkan. “It’s the way I live my life. I don’t leave myself much time. ”
No matter how hectic, life in Australia is much more stable than he might have expected had he remained in the country of his birth: Iran. “I came here in 1989 with my parents at the age of four because of the Iran/Iraq war.”
At the Centre, one of the projects Ashkan is working on is getting out the Pro Bono Practices guide to penultimate year university students at all the law schools in NSW. The guide looks at what the large law firms are doing by way of pro bono work, so that students can use the information to make up their minds about which firms they want to work with.
“We’ve met with representatives from Sydney, NSW, Macquarie and UWS, and we’re sending out manuals to Southern Cross.
There’s a large careers fair at Darling Harbour which is the main one, and everyone goes there. We were happy to get a corner there but the organizers are trying to get us a whole booth for free.”
If Ashkan has any spare time at all, it is consumed with soccer. “I play for Kissing Point Soccer Club and am a member of their Premier League squad. My favourite team is Chelsea in the English Premier League.”
|In the US, as in Australia, the legal profession’s commitment to pro bono continues to gather momentum. In 2006, challenge signatory law firms, of the Law Firm Pro Bono ChallengeSM provided 4 million hours of pro bono services in the US. In 2007, more than 100 corporates introduced a formal pro bono program in the US, signalling a growing commitment by the legal profession to improve access to justice for the poor and disadvantaged.
It was against this backdrop that Esther Lardent, President and CEO of the Pro Bono Institute, launched the Institute’s 2008 Annual Conference at the Willard Hotel (pictured) in Washington DC in February 2008. The conference is an international event that addresses the interests, needs and emerging issues faced by pro bono lawyers. As the legal profession’s premier global pro bono event, legal professionals from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States flocked to the event for practical orientation on leading practices, trends and innovations, and cutting-edge developments in the fast-changing world of pro bono.
The three-day conference was attended by a record number of representatives of law firms, in-house legal departments and public interest organisations, including five pro bono coordinators from law firms in Australia and a representative from PILCH in Victoria.
Law Schools and Pro Bono
In the session “Partnering with Law Schools”, speakers discussed the increasing number of pro bono programs in law schools in the US and the skyrocketing student interest and participation in the programs.
This session highlighted that law school pro bono programs yield excellent results when they involve partnerships between law schools, law firms, in-house corporate departments and/or public interest organisations. One of the speakers, Eliza Vorenberg from the Roger Williams University School of Law, explained that benefit of a multi-tiered relationship is that it provides a way of connecting lawyers with the community and law students with law firms. Lawyers benefit from the writing and research skills of law students, law students benefit from guidance of their mentors (academics and lawyers), and public interest organisations/ non-profits benefit from a more coordinated approach to their legal needs.
Since the first pro bono program and graduation requirement was introduced by Tulane Law School in 1987, most American law schools have developed formal pro bono programs, clinics, graduation requirements, pledges and PI courses. In Australia, despite the introduction of many clinics and PI courses, no Australian law school requires students to undertake pro bono as a requirement of their degree.
Skye Rose, Senior Project Manager at the National Pro Bono Research Centre, attended the conference in February 2008. A full report on the Conference will be made available online next month.
|David Malcolm, Tom Percy, Malcolm McCusker turn to TV (Perth Now [The Sunday Times], March 3)
Chairman of the Legal Aid Commission, Malcolm McCusker, former Chief Justice David Malcolm and high profile media QC Tom Percy, all feature in the WA TV series, “Crime & Punishment”, produced with proceeds of crime money, to give a voice to victims. Article mentions that McCusker has done pro bono work.Pro Bono deserves more than lip service (The Australian Financial Review, March 4)
The national survey of pro bono legal work by solicitors released by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre in February contains important messages for management at larger commercial firms about what is required to build a genuine pro bono culture with employed solicitors.
Corporate Responsibility Practices (speech delivered by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens at the University of Sydney on March 3)
Speech refers to the importance of pro bono services offered by legal firms.
Aborigines fighting intervention have a lot to contend with (The Australian, March 7)
Law firm backs stolen claims against WA govt (National Indigenous Times, March 10)
Son ‘dobbed in robbery mum’, court told (The Courier-Mail, March 11)
Outstanding legal practitioner sought (WA government media statement, March 10)
QC offers insight on refugees (Ballarat Courier, March 12)
Rudd looking at pro bono panel (The Australian, March 14)
No agreement on model laws (The Australian, March 14)
A decade in pursuit of the good oil (The Australian, March 14)
Firms line up to recruit elite (The Australian, 28 March)
Up, up and away for the new superlawyers (The Australian, 28 March)