The Commonwealth Legal Service Expenditure Report 2016-17, just published, shows legal services providers to the Commonwealth performed a total of 502,619 hours of pro bono work in 2016-17, a decrease of 52,605 hours or 9.5% since 2015-16 (555,224 hours). This was despite 116 law firms reporting up from 107 in 2014-15.
Fifteen firms were reporting for the first time and 31 firms failed to report. These are factors which make it difficult to make a meaningful comparison between the data from the two years.
However, only thirty firms reported exceeding the National Pro Bono Target figure of 35 pro bono hours per lawyer per annum, down from thirty-seven firms in 2015-16.
Firms on the Legal Services Multi-Use List (LSMUL) are required to report annually to the Commonwealth government on their pro bono performance. Commonwealth agencies must take this information into account when choosing to engage a particular firm. The LSMUL ceased as of 1 July 2018 and is expected to be replaced by a whole of government panel system in 2019 (see story in this edition).
In 2016-17, Commonwealth entities reported total legal services expenditure of $825.51m, up from $792.40m in 2015-16. This is an increase of $33.11m or 4.2%.
The total expenditure comprised internal expenditure of $408.45m (an increase of $15.95m from 2015-16) and external expenditure of $417.06m (an increase of $17.16m from 2015-16).
In 2016-17, agencies paid a total of $306.63m in professional fees to legal services providers, an increase of $16.41m from 2015-16 ($290.22m). The top 10 legal services providers received approximately 80% of professional fees (excluding counsel fees and disbursements), with ‘Other” firms receiving 20% of the fees (significantly up from 14% in 2015-16).
The percentage of fees earned by each of these firms and their pro bono performance can be seen in the table below.
|Name of Firm
||Percentage (%) of all professional fees earned from the Cth (2016/2017)
||Reported pro bono hours per lawyer per annum (2016/2017)
|Australian Government Solicitor
|Minter Ellison Lawyers
|King & Wood Mallesons
|Corrs Chambers Westgarth
|HWL Ebsworth Lawyers
|Mills Oakley Lawyers