The concept of doing unpaid legal work in order to further ‘the public good’ has existed, in one form or another, for as long as the legal profession itself. Among canon lawyers, there was a well-established system for helping disadvantaged individuals by the 12th century.
This same tradition remains strong in 21st century Australia. Pro bono legal work benefits the community as a whole. In my experience, it is common in cases raising important questions of public law for the court to have the assistance of counsel and solicitors who are acting pro bono. And it is notable how frequently the work is undertaken by eminent members of the profession.
As the Foreword to the second edition of the Manual observed, ‘targeted, visible and structured’ pro bono legal work was, and is, increasingly important to law firms. The increasingly globalised nature of practice in Australia is reflected in the changed names of so many of the law firms mentioned in the Manual. The pro bono culture within Australian firms in this global context is an admirable demonstration of the leadership of the Australian profession.
The third edition of the Manual has been updated to reflect the substantial changes that have occurred over the past decade. The extensively cross-referenced text is clear, well laid out and will be supplemented by online updates. This edition is targeted at mid-sized and small law firms. With this audience in mind, there are useful precedents including letters of engagement for litigious and non-litigious work and secondment agreements. The advice is practical and ranges from the different methods employed to credit the firm’s pro bono legal work, to what to do with recovered costs.
While firms will employ different approaches to the coordination of their pro bono legal work, I commend the emphasis on the need for a dedicated ‘pro bono leader’, at least for mid-sized and larger firms. I also commend the Manual’s emphasis on the need for the adoption of protocols to ensure that the firm’s pro bono legal work is performed to the same standard as other work.
The Manual provides comprehensive guidance to the profession in the conduct of important work. It reflects a wealth of hands-on experience accumulated by the pro bono coordinators who have lent their assistance to the Australian Pro Bono Centre in its compilation. All associated with its production deserve to be congratulated.
Justice Virginia Bell AC
High Court of Australia