Issue 64: February 2011
Welcome to the February 2011 edition of the e-Newsletter of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre. We welcome your feedback/contributions/ideas – please email [email protected]. In this edition, read about:
6. INTERNATIONAL: International Bar Association (IBA) launches new pro bono clearing house ‘Directory Page’
Key Queensland legal organisations have worked together to establish the clearly branded “Flood and Cyclone Legal Help” pro bono legal response to assist disadvantaged Queenslanders affected by the floods and cyclones Anthony and Yasi. The Flood and Cyclone Legal Help response is a collaborative effort of QLAF members: Legal Aid Queensland, Queensland Law Society, the Bar Association of Queensland, QAILS, ATSILS (QLD), and QPILCH. The response includes:
The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s department has made available $200,000 in funding provided through Legal Aid Queensland, the Queensland legal profession, Queensland community legal centres and the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service. The Centre understands that most of this money will go to fund specific services to deal with the expected increasing number of insurance issues. A-G McClelland said “Many of these legal professionals are providing their services on a pro bono basis and I commend the Queensland legal profession and legal assistance services for their contribution to the recovery effort.” Andrea de Smidt, Acting Director at QPILCH, said, “We already have a lot of volunteers. The landscape is ever changing and we are developing responses as required. A huge effort has been made in these first 3 weeks since the floods and there has been a lot of goodwill and energy but it is important to remember we will be requiring lawyers’ support for the long term. We want a sustainable response. We expect demand for increased pro bono assistance to extend for at least 12 months if not longer.” Bruce Doyle, President of the Queensland Law Society, said, “The response from the private legal profession has been fantastic. Firms let staff out on full pay to help with the cleanup, have made some really substantial financial donations, settled fact sheets and been part of the teams attending the Recovery Centres.” Queensland Lawyers wanting to help should complete the Pro Bono Flood Legal Advice Registration of Interest Form available on the QLS site. Interstate lawyers wanting to help should register their interest with their pro bono coordinator. The Centre has been preparing a paper on the Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Planning for the Legal Profession in Australia forwarded as a draft to Queensland. Anyone interested in making comment on the draft can contact the Centre for a copy.
Three firms have signed up to the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target since the last newsletter – Allen & Overy, Russell Kennedy and Bruce Thomas Lawyers
Allen & Overy is a leading international firm that was established 81 years ago in the United Kingdom and now has offices in twenty-six countries. In May 2010 it expanded its operations to Australia, opening offices in Sydney and Perth. Worldwide the firm has 495 partners, including 20 in Australia.
According to David Morley, Senior Partner, “As a truly international business, Allen & Overy is in a position to impact significantly on our local and global communities… Our staff are amongst the very best in the business, and are passionate about using their professional expertise to help others.” Angeline Welsh from Allen & Overy’s London office, who won last year’s International Bar Association Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee Award, recently wrote of the benefits of pro bono work for lawyers in Legal Week (UK).
Russell Kennedy, a founding member of the Kennedy Strang Legal Group, has been operating in Victoria under various guises since 1857. Its pro bono committee identifies and evaluates potential beneficiaries of its pro bono program, develops new and strengthens existing community partnerships and promotes awareness of the program among staff, encouraging all its lawyers to participate.
Russell Kennedy has strong relationships with PILCH in Victoria and throughout the community legal sector, enabling it to assist the disadvantaged, the disabled, young people and the indigenous community. It also works on public interest matters and for not-for-profit groups, particularly via PilchConnect, and participated in Bushfire Legal Help. Its work is not limited to legal representation, extending to the training of lawyers and community workers and the creation of fact sheets.
Bruce Thomas Lawyers was established by Bruce Thomas in 2002 and specialises in insurance and health care law throughout Queensland and New South Wales. The firm is proud to provide pro bono legal services via the Queensland Law Society Scheme administered by the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House.
The firm also makes donations to several charities and sponsors fifteen children through World Vision. A particularly rewarding project for Bruce Thomas Lawyers has been the establishment of its lending team, which provides micro-finance loans through Kiva and Opportunity International Australia.
The Service is available throughout NSW and is presently working with the Cancer Council South Australia to expand the service into that state. Lawyers in Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, Canberra, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Armidale, Inverell, Glen Innes, Wagga, and Albury are available to undertake legal work locally, with long and complex matters for clients in regional areas being handled by Sydney firms, by phone and post. About half the requests come in by telephone through the Cancer Council Helpline, and the other half from referrals by social workers in hospitals.
Seventy eight firms across NSW are now involved. Most of these are small firms based in regional areas where they service local communities but the service has the support of a number of the large and mid-tier firms. Some of the firms that have done a considerable amount of work include Herbert Geer, Turner Freeman, Baker & McKenzie and the in-house team at Ramsay Health but there are many others who have taken referrals and the demand continues to grow.
The service has attracted a number of in-house corporate legal teams with their PI insurance being provided by the National Pro Bono Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme run by the Centre. The in-house legal team at Perpetual, an investment and trustee group, who only joined in August last year, have already assisted 20 clients with 28 separate matters in that time. Fourteen of their lawyers are involved.
To deal with the expansion, the Service has a new pro bono case manager in Sarah Penman, previously a solicitor at Mallesons and recently seconded to the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre at UNSW for 3 months.
The areas of law and practice most involved in the Service are wills and powers of attorney; early access to superannuation; mortgage hardship and other consumer credit problems; insurance; employment and family law advice relating to parenting arrangements following the death of a primary carer.
Louisa Fitz-Gerald, Professional Services Coordinator, for the Service was recently named winner of the 2011 Australian Young Lawyer Award by the Australian Young Lawyers’ Committee of the Law Council of Australia. This was for being “the sole driver of the project” and “working tirelessly to establish a legal referral service for cancer patients in New South Wales over an 18 month period,” according to Alex Ward, the president of the Law Council.
Fitz-Gerald says, “To get the recognition of the service is a real bonus. One of the great things I think that will come out of receiving the award is that more people are going to hear about the Cancer Council’s referral service. Hopefully the number helped will grow exponentially as a result of this award”.
“Eventually, we’d like to expand across the country, so that’s going to involve engaging a lot of lawyers and hopefully getting them involved in the service.”
“There is real interest from in-house legal teams wanting to join. We are in discussions with a number of teams at the moment.”
“Means testing applies to clients and some have been refused service on this basis but this is difficult when you take into account the costs associated with treatment, therapy, transport, accommodation, childcare, respite care and loss of income. People are already under a great deal of stress.”
“We really appreciate the way law firms and in-house teams have embraced the service. When they agree to take on a client, they are treated no differently to a paying client. It’s a professional service”, said Fitz-Gerald.
Lawyers, firms and in-house legal teams wanting to be involved should contact Louisa Fitz-Gerald.
You may wish to read a previous story on this service from the July 2010 edition of National Pro Bono News.
As a “plaintiff firm” that has a long history of undertaking “no win – no fee” legal work particularly for workers and socially disadvantaged persons Maurice Blackburn (“MB”) faced a challenge in identifying a formal pro bono legal practice. The solution adopted by MB is to have a “Social Justice Practice” that focuses on public interest litigation.
Much legal work done at MB without charge to the client is not necessarily pro bono work. It may be done for socially disadvantaged or marginalised individuals but be speculative or investigative. Also class actions that the firm may run for the public good, still carry the prospect of fee recovery for the firm and are at the heart of the business model of their legal practice. Also unlike most “defendant firms”, their lawyers are constantly assisting individual clients who have limited access to the legal system, a function performed as part of the business model, but also for the public good.
The Social Justice Practice distinguishes MB from other firms’ pro bono practices as most firms with developed pro bono practices do some public interest litigation but that is not their primary focus. The areas of practice for MB’s social justice practice are Civil and Political Rights, Asylum Seekers Rights, Environment & Climate Change, Workplace Rights, and Indigenous Rights & Equality.
Strategic public interest litigation is nothing new for MB who have been involved as far back as 1945 when the firm worked with the ACTU and won a claim for the 40-hour week. It worked with union clients for equal wages for women throughout the 1950s and 60s until the principle of equal pay for equal work became law in 1972. It also led litigation which achieved wage equality and award conditions for Aboriginal men employed as station hands in the 1966 Northern Territory Cattle Industry Case.
Some of the recent cases in which the Social Justice Practice has led litigation include challenging wrongful detentions, challenging adverse security assessments of asylum seekers, defending the Wilderness Society’s right to protest, claims for unpaid wages, and claims for compensation for members of the Stolen Generation.
Four years later, after appeals to the Federal and High Courts, MB lawyers described the historic decision in Aid/Watch’s favour as having “enormous implications not just for Aid/Watch but for any charity that seeks to influence government policy in the public interest”. The Director of
The Social Justice Practice also provides free or discounted legal advice to persons or groups who do not qualify for legal aid and cannot afford legal assistance; participates in law reform projects, provides community legal education; and participates in advice nights at community legal centres.
She says, “Maurice Blackburn’s Social Justice Practice recognises that there are individuals and organisations in our community who cannot afford the services of a lawyer. The work is based on the view that Australian and international law should support the notion of justice and reflect community values. The Social Justice Practice challenges the excesses of government and business and champions the rights of those that are disadvantaged. We believe legal action that supports social justice contributes to a better society”.
Elizabeth estimates that about 80 of the 230 lawyers that MB has nationally (35%) are actively involved in the Social Justice Practice (compares with an average 41% lawyers ‘pro bono participation rate’ for firms of this size in the Centre’s recent survey). A challenge for managing, evaluating and developing the practice is that lawyers in the personal injury practice don’t keep timesheets. They do in the major projects and class actions area but this makes it difficult to obtain an accurate record of pro bono hours.
Unlike most other firms, billable credits for pro bono work is not an issue at MB according to O’Shea. “Areas have budgets but there has never been an issue about lawyers not meeting budget because of pro bono work. It’s just part of what we do.”, she said.
While these challenges, in addition to the no win-no fee nature of MB’s work, make it more difficult to quantify MB’s pro bono work, it is clear that it is achieving significant social justice outcomes.
Watch the video here (7:34 mins -14 January 2011):
The IBA Pro Bono & Access to Justice Committee has just established a Clearing House Directory ‘page’ athttp://www.internationalprobono.com/clearinghouse/ with the aim of raising awareness of the work of clearing houses among both the IBA’s membership and the wider pro bono community as well as making available information concerning the identities and expertise of individual clearing houses to that wider audience.
The Committee is seeking to add relevant organisations to the site, and expand and develop it by adding a library/tool-kit function (containing, e.g., best practice and ‘how to’ advice) as well as a notice board for projects that are currently looking for a home and volunteers who are looking for someone to volunteer with. Clearing houses wishing to be listed should contact [email protected].
The new Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre, located in Port Macquarie, is looking for a Coordinator to help establish the service. Taking this opportunity will provide opportunities to be involved in a range of justice work including legal advice and representation, community legal education and policy and law reform work aimed at developing a fairer legal system that better responds to the needs of the disadvantaged.
Applications close 7 March 2011. For more information (including a position description) please visit http://www.da.org.au/recruitment/position.asp?id=21.
Articles of interest to the pro bono community from November 2010 – February 2011. Click through to read any news article in full.
1 February 2011 – Lawyers Weekly
The Australian Young Lawyers’ Committee of the Law Council of Australia announced Louisa Fitz-Gerald as winner of the 2011 Australian Young Lawyer Award. LCA president Alexander Ward said Fitz-Gerald was a “deserving winner” thanks to her work with patients dealing with chronic illness. “Louisa has worked tirelessly to establish a legal referral service for cancer patients in New South Wales,” he said.
31 January 2011 – The Australian
The Federal Government is to provide an extra $200,000 to help flood-affected Queenslanders access legal information and advice. “The recent floods have left many Queensland families and businesses with legal issues relating to insurance claims, housing and tenancy issues and lost or destroyed documents that will need to be addressed,” he said in a statement.
27 January 2011 – Australasian Legal Business Online
23 January 2011 – Lawyers Weekly
20 January 2011 – Lawyers Weekly
18 January 2011 – Victoria Legal Aid
17 January 2011 – The Canberra Times
10 January 2011 – Attorney-General of Queensland
1 January 2011 – American Bar Association Journal
30 December 2010 – The Maryland Daily Record
19 December 2010 – Lawyers Weekly
15 December 2010 – Australasian Legal Business Online
13 December 2010 – The Scotsman
6 December 2010 – ABC News
2 December 2010 – Lawyers Weekly
1 December 2010 – The Financial Times
30 November 2010 – Legal Week
30 November 2010 – The Star Observer
29 November 2010 – The New Lawyer
Law firm Arnold Bloch Leiber is helping Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre take a race discrimination case to the Federal Court of Australia against members of the Victoria Police, the Chief Commissioner of Police and the State of Victoria. The firm is acting pro bono with a team of barristers. The Centre is helping 17 young people who have filed an application in the Federal Court.