Pro bono referral schemes and organisations (collectively known as PBROs) facilitate pro bono legal work by acting as intermediaries between people or organisations that need legal assistance and lawyers wishing to assist. In jurisdictions outside Australia, pro bono referral organisations are commonly known as ‘clearing houses’, although that term is no longer as commonly used in Australia.
A strong feature of pro bono in Australia is the existence of a PBRO in every Australian State and Territory.1 The first of these was the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) NSW which commenced in 1992, and which merged with PILCH Vic in 2013 to become Justice Connect. Importantly, PBROs provide a point of focus for pro bono activity in each jurisdiction.
The various PBROs are markedly different in scale and size and they operate in different ways. This chapter provides background information on PBROs and their relevance to firms, solicitors and barristers seeking to do pro bono work.
3.3.1 PRO BONO REFERRAL ORGANISATIONS
Membership-based pro bono referral organisations exist in NSW and Victoria (Justice Connect), Queensland (Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH)) and South Australia (JusticeNet SA). The 2014 National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey reported that 33 of the 55 largest firms in Australia were members of at least one membership-based pro bono referral organisation, including all eight firms with more than 450 lawyers.2
Firms pay a membership fee to join these organisations based on the number of partners in the firm. The membership bases of pro bono referral organisations also include universities, community legal centres, corporate and government legal departments.
Many pro bono referral organisations now also engage in front line legal service delivery beyond their referral work: for example, through the operation of homeless persons legal clinics, legal services for not-for-profit organisations, seniors rights services, self-representation services and other outreach services and clinics.
For law firms, membership of a pro bono referral organisation offers the opportunity to accept case referrals.3 Pro bono referral organisations ‘triage’ requests for pro bono legal assistance by assessing applications from individual clients, community legal centres and other not-for-profit organisations. They can, for example, assess each potential client’s means, the merits of their matter and whether legal assistance can be obtained elsewhere. They then appropriately place the request for assistance with their members.
3.3.2 PRO BONO REFERRAL SCHEMES
Pro bono referral schemes are mainly run by law societies or bar associations. Examples include the NSW Law Society’s Pro Bono Scheme and the NSW Bar Association’s Legal Assistance Referral Scheme.
Pro bono referral schemes run directly by law societies exist in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. In South Australia, Queensland and Victoria, the law society referral scheme is run by the membership-based pro bono referral organisation in that State.6
In Western Australia, Law Access was established as a pro bono referral scheme within The Law Society of Western Australia in 1992. In December 2014 it became Law Access Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Law Society of Western Australia, and relocated to the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Australia.
Other pro bono referral schemes include the Cancer Council Pro Bono Program, which is managed by the Cancer Council in NSW and Victoria and which assists those with cancer and their family members. LawHelp is a service initiated by the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations that provides legal referrals to entities seeking to register or transfer their incorporation to the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (Cth) and to not-for-profit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations already registered under that Act.
Pro bono referral schemes7 do not operate on a membership model. Firms participate in a scheme by joining its referrals list, indicating they’ll consider accepting case referrals based on their areas of expertise. The scheme receives and assesses requests for assistance from the public and from within the legal profession, and uses the referrals list to place these requests.
Firms may also be able to help assess requests for assistance: for example, by providing merits advice.
Pro bono referral schemes are a good option for small firms and sole practitioners seeking to undertake pro bono legal work.8
For more information about pro bono referral schemes and organisations see What Works, Chapter 9 Pro bono referral schemes and organisations.
1 For the contact details of the pro bono referral schemes and organisations in each State and Territory see the Centre’s website at https://probonocentre.org.au/legal-help/pro-bono-referral/.
2 See National Pro Bono Resource Centre, Fourth National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey (Australian firms with fifty or more lawyers) – Final Report, December 2014, p 45, https://probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/our-publications/survey.
4 See further the case studies in Australian Pro Bono Centre, above n 3, Chapter 27 Law reform and policy work. https://probonocentre.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/4th_National_Law_ Firm_Pro_Bono_Survey_2014_Final_Report.pdf.
5 See further the case studies in Australian Pro Bono Centre, above n 3, Chapter 22 Secondments. https://probonocentre.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/4th_National_Law_ Firm_Pro_Bono_Survey_2014_Final_Report.pdf.
6 Current contact details for each scheme can be found on the centre’s website at https://probonocentre.org.au/legal-help/pro-bono-referral-schemes-and-organisations/.
7 Including the law society referral schemes that are managed by PBROs.
8 See Chapter 1.16 A small firm perspective and Australian Pro Bono Centre, above n 3, Chapter 11 Small firms. https://probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/our-publications/what-works/