Pro bono programs benefit from a planned and coordinated approach. Approximately 75% of law firms in Australia with 50 or more full-time equivalent lawyers now have a pro bono coordinator. A formal structure for a pro bono program is a key component in establishing a sustainable pro bono culture, regardless of the firm’s size.
This chapter focuses on why firms should have a plan for their pro bono legal work, and what that plan should encompass.
1.1.1 WHY FIRMS SHOULD HAVE A PLAN FOR PRO BONO LEGAL WORK
Properly designing, structuring, and coordinating a firm’s pro bono program significantly enhances its ability to:
- demonstrate its level of commitment to pro bono legal work;
- send a consistent message about its values;
- undertake pro bono legal work on a planned, rather than reactive, basis;
- nurture a firm-wide culture within a coherent policy;
- target resources in order to maximise outcomes;
- provide opportunities to engage a greater number of lawyers within the firm, including amongst groups whose commercial skills would not usually be associated with pro bono legal work;
- provide a greater variety of pro bono legal work;
- provide lawyers with valuable opportunities for training and experience;
- engage in better supervision and quality-control of pro bono legal work carried out within the firm; and
- track and record pro bono legal work and consequently evaluate internal benefits and client outcomes and costs.
The Planning Checklist below may assist firms to achieve these outcomes.
Even though pro bono in Australia has become much more sophisticated in subsequent years, the recommendations for a large law firm’s pro bono program that were made by Roger West at the very first National Pro Bono Conference in 2000 still hold true. West suggests that a pro bono program will have the best chance of success if it:
- has the clear support of the firm’s leaders;
- is professionally planned and managed with a full-time specialist lawyer/coordinator;
- has a dedicated and significant budget;
- operates according to a clear policy and guidelines;
- ensures that, to the maximum extent possible, pro bono legal work is treated, performed and credited in the same way as other work the firm undertakes;
- has both in-house and external components;
- is targeted towards areas of greatest need where the firm’s skills and resources can be best utilised; and
- ensures that interested personnel at all levels of the firm can participate.
1.1.2 PLANNING CHECKLIST
Firms in the process of planning their pro bono programs might consider taking the following steps:
- Consider best practice: see Appendix 2 Best Practice Guide;
- Identify the drivers and key reasons for the firm developing a pro bono program (see 1.4.1 Why do pro bono legal work?);
- Consider surveying the firm’s current pro bono legal work and consulting with partners, lawyers and other staff to formulate and strengthen support for the program (see Chapter 1.5 Surveying interest);
- Define ‘pro bono legal work’ and the firm’s pro bono program (see Chapter 1.2 Defining pro bono legal work);
- Develop a pro bono policy which outlines the firm’s pro bono focus and objectives (see Chapter 1.3 Pro Bono Policy);
- Set a target for the pro bono legal work the firm seeks to undertake and a budget for the operational expenses of the pro bono program (see Chapter 1.8 Setting targets and budgets for pro bono legal work and programs);
- Identify the way(s) in which the firm plans to provide pro bono legal services (see Chapter 1.7 Current models of pro bono legal work);
- Consider ways to promote a pro bono culture and encourage pro bono legal work in the firm (see Chapter 1.4 Promoting a pro bono culture);
- Consider unmet legal needs, and identify the relationships that will provide sources of pro bono legal work that address those needs as part of building a sustainable pro bono program (see Chapter 1.6 Identifying needs and sources of pro bono legal work and What Works Part 3 Understanding your potential partner);
- Identify possible pro bono legal work and projects for different teams within the firm, including ‘transactional’ (non-litigation) work, community legal education and law reform work (see Chapter 1.6 Identifying needs and sources of pro bono legal work and What Works Part 3 Models of pro bono legal assistance);
- Identify opportunities for involvement of all levels in the firm, including new graduates and summer clerks (see Chapter 1.10 Participation);
- Consider acquiring expertise in particular areas of unmet legal need (see Chapter 1.14 Training and skills);
- Determine processes for supervising and administering the program (see Chapter 1.9 Coordinating the program);
- Determine how pro bono legal work will be credited and recognised within the firm (see Chapter 1.11 Crediting and recognising pro bono legal work);
- Determine procedures for matter placement and file management (see Chapter 2.1 Casework procedures);
- Create mechanisms to ensure communication within the firm regarding pro bono legal work (see Chapter 1.4 Promoting a pro bono culture);
- Consider record keeping mechanisms and requirements (see Chapter 1.13 Evaluation); and
- Make arrangements for the periodic evaluation and review of the pro bono program (see Chapter 1.13 Evaluation).
1 76% of respondents to the Centre’s 2020 National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey indicated that they had at least one dedicated pro bono coordinator or manager (a person whose primary responsibility is to coordinate their firm’s pro bono legal work). See Australian Pro Bono Centre, Report on the 7th National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey: Australian firms with 50 or more lawyers (Report, February 2021) 61 <https://www.probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/survey/>.