Issue 94: December 2014
|Welcome to the end-of-year 2014 edition of National Pro Bono News, from the National Pro Bono Resource Centre.
We welcome your feedback/contributions/ideas – please email [email protected].
John, Leanne, Afton, Daniel and Lucy from the Centre would like to wish you the best
of the season’s greetings and a safe and happy holiday season.
In this edition, read about:
Please note that the Centre will be closed from 5pm on Wednesday 24 December and will re-open on Monday 5 January.
This month the Centre welcomes its new Chair, Phillip Cornwell, and new Board Members, Daniel Creasey and Jane Hutchison.
Phillip Cornwell is a lawyer with a keen interest in human rights, access to justice issues and sustainability. He has over 30 years experience as a partner at commercial law firm Allens where, as well as heading its Project Finance practice, Phillip has for many years chaired its Pro Bono and Footprint Committees. Phillip also lectures part time for a University of Sydney Master of Laws course. In the not-for-profit sector, Phillip is a director of Suicide Prevention Australia and chairs its governance committee.
Daniel Creasey joined CBP Lawyers in 2014 as a Special Counsel in the insurance team and Director of Corporate Responsibility. Prior to this Daniel was DLA Piper’s Regional Pro Bono Counsel & Manager (Asia Pacific). As head of CBP’s corporate responsibility practice, Daniel sets the direction of the firm’s pro bono and community engagement practice and leads the firm’s strategy on diversity, environment and sustainability.
Daniel has had a close association with the Centre and has worked on a number of our projects, including the NBN Regional Legal Assistance Program pilot project that the Centre managed in partnership with Hobart Community Legal Service and DLA Piper.
Jane Hutchison, Manager of Hobart Community Legal Service, is moving from her role as Chair of the Centre’s Advisory Council to join the Board.
In addition to welcoming Phillip, Daniel and Jane, we also farewell our outgoing Chair, Peter Stapleton, and Board Members, Michelle Hannon and Caitlin Perry. We thank each of them for their many years (almost a decade for Peter and Michelle) of service to the Centre, and for the energy and guidance that they have provided. We are pleased to report that Peter and Caitlin will be continuing their involvement with the Centre through the Advisory Council.
The Fourth National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey – Final Report was released last week, in conjunction with forums in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney hosted by the Centre’s Director, John Corker (a copy of the full report can be found here, and a 12-page Executive Summary extract can be found here). The Survey is the fourth instalment in the centre’s longitudinal study of the pro bono practices of large firms that the Centre began in 2008, and the Final Report expands on the findings of the Interim Report, released in October 2014.
While hours of pro bono legal work per lawyer per year increased, a number of concerning trends were highlighted. These include a marked reduction in the number of firms that recognise pro bono legal work with full billable hour credit – from 64 percent in 2010 to 51 percent in 2012 and only 40 percent in 2014. In fact, four respondents who did provide full billable hour credit for pro bono legal work in 2012 have now changed their approach and only recognise hours of pro bono legal work in a special non-billable category.
There was also notable decrease in overall participation rates – that is, the proportion of lawyers who undertook at least one hour of pro bono legal work in the financial year. This decreased from 59 percent in 2010 to 53 percent in 2012 and 50 percent in 2014. This downward trend in participation rates, when coupled with the simultaneous rise in hours of pro bono legal work per lawyer per year, appears to indicate that more pro bono is being undertaken by an increasingly small number of lawyers.
This apparent trend was reflected in information obtained on dedicated pro bono lawyers and secondments. Notably, most firms that provided secondments (61%) indicated that they are providing more secondments (in hours) than two years ago, and there was a marked correlation at individual firms between rises in secondments and since 2012 and falls in participation rates over the same period.
These issues are discussed in the Centre’s media release on this topic, released last week, which also examines the relationship between the Final Report’s findings and observations with those made by the Productivity Commission in its Inquiry Report on Access to Justice Arrangements, released 3 December (see also story below).
The 116-page Final Report contains an examination of the large firm pro bono landscape, both as a snapshot of the financial year and as part of a study of the sector since 2008. In most cases, data is broken down by firm size, with Group A including firms with 450 – 1,000 lawyers, Group B including firms with 201 – 449 lawyers and Group C including firms with 50 – 200 lawyers. A 12-page Executive Summary extract is also available.
Other topics covered include:
The Centre looks forward to continuing the discussion about the Final Report’s findings, particularly in the context of the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry Report, and welcomes any feedback or comments that you may have.
The Commission’s findings and recommendations relating to “pro bono services” reflect many of the suggestions and take into account the concerns that the Centre made in its submissions to the Inquiry and in the Commission’s public hearings.
In conducting its wide ranging examination of access to justice in Australia, the Commission paid particular consideration in Chapter 23 of the Inquiry Report to the role that pro bono legal services play in facilitating access to justice. It also identified the limitations of pro bono legal assistance, recognising that “pro bono is not a panacea, nor is it costless”.
The Commission highlighted the fact that the capacity and culture of firms, the difficulty of matching expertise with needs, and conflicts of interest, all limit the effectiveness of pro bono in improving access to justice and suggested reforms to address some of these limitations.
The pro bono-related recommendations contained in the Inquiry Report, include suggestions that:
In relation to evaluation of pro bono programs more broadly, beyond publicly funded pro bono services, the Commission considered that it would be worth developing a standardised evaluation tool for use by pro bono providers. It suggested that a body such as the Centre or a referral scheme could be funded to coordinate the development of such an evaluation tool.
The Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) has won the 2014 Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility Award at the 2014 Australian Corporate Lawyers Association’s (ACLA) In-house Lawyer Awards, held on 20 November 2014. The other finalists were Leanne Clark (Commonwealth Bank of Australia) and Arup.
The AGS team is led by National Manager Pro Bono Services, Geetha Nair. AGS received the award in recognition of their significant pro bono contribution. In 2013-2014 AGS contributed 7,500 hours of pro bono legal work valued at more than $2.6 million, a 44 percent increase on the contribution made in 2009-2010 (the first full year of the program).
AGS partners with a number of other organisations to provide pro bono legal assistance. Some examples include:
AGS is also involved in a number of international projects including advising the PNG Family and Sexual Violence Case Management Centre on its employment and governance issues.
The Centre congratulates Geetha and the AGS team on this well-deserved award and their impressive pro bono contribution.
People without legal representation in employment disputes in the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court will now be able to access legal assistance through the Justice Connect Self Representation Service. Previously only dealing with bankruptcy, the Service has just expanded to also support people involved in Fair Work matters.
Justice Connect’s Service is based on the successful QPILCH model. Funded by the Commonwealth Attorney-General, it operates in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT. “We have 11 committed law firms whose lawyers volunteer their time to help those without representation,” said, Joanna Mansfield, Manager of the Service.
Through the Service, those unable to get legal help any other way are assisted to ensure they have correct information for court appearances, legal advice, correctly drafted documents and court forms, advice on dispute resolution options and explanations of court processes. “Clients feel the Service lets them know where they stand and what they need to do next. Court staff have also observed that these clients are appearing at court more prepared and better equipped to conduct their matters. This is a win-win situation,” said Ms Mansfield.
Justice Connect’s Self Representation Service can be contacted on 1800 727 550 between 9.30am and 5.00pm, Monday to Friday. The Service accepts requests from individuals for assistance as well as referrals from other legal services and caseworkers.
The Justice Connect Self Representation Service team (l-r): Shane Wescott (Lawyer for NSW/ACT), Miriana Smoljko (Paralegal for NSW/ACT),
Jacqui Siebel (Paralegal for Vic/Tas), Joanna Mansfield (Manager) and Guy Donovan (Lawyer for Vic/Tas)
The Centre extends its heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of barrister Katrina Dawson, tragically killed in the siege at the Lindt café in Philip Street Sydney. She is remembered not only as one of the best and brightest barristers at the NSW Bar, but also as one of the best volunteers at the Redfern Legal Centre, liked by all.
Check out Social Justice Opportunities (www.sjopps.net.au) for information on finding a job or volunteering in the social justice sector. The website includes a ‘Latest Opportunities’ section, which provides a list of current employment and volunteering opportunities around the country.
If you would like to advertise a social justice job or volunteer position on the site, particularly one aimed at law students or new lawyers, please email us for details. It’s easy and free!
Here’s what’s going on in the Twitter feed right now:
Articles of interest to the pro bono community from November to December 2014. Click through to read any news article in full.
15 December 2014 – Mondaq
12 December 2014 – Lawyers Weekly
5 December 2014 – Canberra Times
30 November 2014 – The Age
18 November 2014 – Justice Connect
11 December 2014 – The Law Society Gazette
19 November 2014 – The Conversation
11 December 2014 – The Recorder
By Esther Lardent, President and CEO, Pro Bono Institute
A recent article in The Recorder suggests that deeply discounted fees for clients unable to afford standard legal fees are properly within the scope and definition of pro bono service. Discounted pricing and sliding fee scales – sometimes referred to by the misleading term “low bono” – are not and should not be viewed as pro bono service.
1 December 2014 – The National Law Journal
25 November 2014 – Corporate Counsel
25 November 2014 – The Recorder
… An option to be considered, rather than taking on a pro bono case in an area completely unfamiliar to you, is the provision of services in the area you normally practice in, but for a substantially reduced fee for clients of limited means who otherwise could not afford legal services.
19 November 2014 – The Am Law Litigation Daily