Volunteers and pro bono partnerships* significantly increased the capacity of community legal centres (CLCs) to provide legal services in 2015/16, according to the National Census of Community Legal Centres 2016 Report. The 129 CLCs involved in the census, conducted by the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) were asked about the nature and composition of centres, their clients and their work. Their answers confirm that volunteers and pro bono lawyers play a key part in the daily life of CLCs. For example:
- 95% of survey respondents reported using volunteers in 2015/2016 and 63% had a pro bono partnership with a business;
- 6,773 CLC volunteers contributed 17,098 hours of work per week; and,
- The top three contenders for volunteer contribution were undergraduate law students (45%), PLT students (21%) and lawyers (16%).
Infographic credit: NACLC.
CLCs have a long history of forging pro bono partnerships and as the Report found, “the contribution of pro bono partners to the work of CLCs in assisting clients across Australia every year cannot be underestimated.” Up by 6% on last year, pro bono partnerships are becoming an increasingly important resource to strengthen the capacity of CLCs to provide services.
These partnerships provided 57,848 hours of assistance over the year, representing an average of 1,112 hours per week. Combined with the hours of volunteers – which include work done for free by law students and lawyers, and as such constitute a form of pro bono – the total weekly pro bono contribution comes to 18,210 hours.
CLCs partnered with a broad range of other organisations to provide services, with the 122 respondents reporting that their most common partners when delivering legal services were other CLCs (58% or 69 CLCs), Legal Aid (47.1% or 56 CLCs) and pro bono partners–legal (47.1% or 56 CLCs).
The numbers from the 2016 Report reinforce the importance of pro bono to the work of CLCs specifically, and access to justice as a whole. As the Report indicates, however, managing pro bono programs can require significant resources, which may not be available to assist in particular areas of law or in rural, regional or remote areas. Pro bono cannot be a substitute for properly funded legal assistance services.
*Note: The Report distinguishes between volunteers – who are defined as “an individual who provides skills and experience to a CLC, free of charge” – and a pro bono partner who is “a professional or firm that, as a business, has formally committed to allocating resources and making a contribution to a CLC and/or its clients, free of charge.”