In July 2016, the New South Wales (NSW) Government included pro bono conditions in its new whole-of-government NSW Legal Services Panel arrangements. Firms will in July 2017 for the first time be reporting on their pro bono work in NSW – a direct result of these new NSW tender rules.
The Australian Pro Bono Centre has made numerous submissions to the NSW Government on this matter, most recently in late 2015, recommending that the new Panel arrangements be tied to the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target in the same way as the Commonwealth Government’s Legal Services Multi-Use List (LSMUL). The Centre’s submission was in line with the Productivity Commission’s recommendations in its 2014 Access to Justice Arrangements Inquiry Report, recommending that the governments of Queensland, NSW and Western Australia should consider adopting the Target into their tender arrangements for legal services.
Under Clause 12(b) of the NSW Government Legal Services Panel Deed (Deed), if the Service Provider is a mid-size to large-size law firm it undertakes to use its best endeavours to meet the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target (Target) of 35 hours of pro bono work per lawyer per year.
Under Clause 2.1(j) of the Service Level Agreement (Annexure C to the Deed) the Service Provider must (as a minimum service standard) endeavour to meet the Target of 35 hours of pro bono work per lawyer per year.
Under Clause 3.1.11 of the Service Level Agreement, Service Providers must provide a report on the Pro Bono Services they provide in accordance with the deed in each Contract Year and any financial year following the final Contract Year. The report is to be provided to the Panel Contract Manager (currently the Department of Transport).
Clause 12 (c) of the Deed provides that the Service Provider must maintain records in relation to Pro Bono Services as are required to demonstrate its performance against the Target and report on this performance to the Panel Contract Manager.
The Pro Bono Reporting Worksheet
Following the Centre making a recent submission to the Department, the Centre understands that the reporting template will ask firms whether they are Target signatories, whether they have an internal pro bono target, and ask firms to report their total pro bono hours, pro bono hours per lawyer for the past financial year, and the type of pro bono activities they have been doing.
Significance of the arrangements
This now brings to four the number of jurisdictions with pro bono encouragement conditions in their legal purchasing arrangements for the private sector (the Commonwealth, Victoria, South Australia and NSW).
The inclusion of pro bono conditions in government tender processes in Victoria and the Commonwealth have been effective in encouraging firms to lift their pro bono performance.
The Panel arrangements in NSW are now in line with Commonwealth arrangements and with the Productivity Commission recommendations.
By encouraging compliance with the Target and requiring record-keeping and recording of pro bono work undertaken, the Legal Services Panel arrangements will strengthen pro bono legal services in NSW.
The NSW Government’s decision to recognise pro bono in this way helps crystallise and consolidate a culture of pro bono among lawyers and firms in the State. Improved quality and quantity of pro bono can only mean better access to justice for our society’s vulnerable and marginalised individuals and groups.
Photo credit: Rambo2100 Parliament of NSW Legislative Council Chamber via photopin (license)