Pro bono referral schemes and organisations (referred to broadly as ‘Referral Organisations ‘ in this chapter) connect people and organisations requiring legal assistance to pro bono lawyers and barristers. The details of Referral Organisations in Australia are listed in part 3.3.3 of this chapter.
This chapter contains a summary of Referral Organisations and explains the benefits to lawyers and barristers of working with Referral Organisations.
- 3.3.1 About Referral Organisations
- 3.3.2 Benefits of working with Referral Organisations
- 3.3.3 List of Australian Referral Organisations
3.3.1 ABOUT REFERRAL ORGANISATIONS
Referral Organisations connect people and organisations requiring legal assistance on public interest matters, or who cannot otherwise access free or affordable legal help, to pro bono lawyers and barristers.
Some Referral Organisations have members to whom they refer pro bono matters. Firms pay a membership fee to join these organisations based on the number of partners in the firm. The membership bases of Referral Organisations also include universities, community legal centres, corporate and government legal departments.
Other Referral Organisations are connected to law societies and are open to all legal practitioners of that jurisdiction to join. For example, Western Australian lawyers can register with Law Access, a subsidiary of the Law Society of Western Australia.
Referral Organisations can also be connected to an organisation, such as the Cancer Council Pro Bono Program, or a statutory body, such as LawHelp, which is run through the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC).
As the scale of unmet legal need has increased and legal service providers have become more technologically sophisticated, some Referral Organisations have adopted digital platforms to connect people and organisations to pro bono legal services. For example, Justice Connect has developed a Pro Bono Portal that is used by over 160 law firms. Online pro bono portals that are operated by Referral Organisations have become an important part of how pro bono legal help is coordinated following natural disasters.
Some Referral Organisations also deliver services directly. For example, in addition to referring matters to its member law firms, Justice Connect’s Seniors Law program offers a direct advice service to older Australians on matters relating to elder abuse, such as drafting powers of attorney and the appointment of guardians.
Other Referral Organisations provide unbundled legal services, which is a method of discrete task-based assistance. For example, a number of Referral Organisations run self-representation services, designed to build the capacity of unrepresented parties in court proceedings.
3.3.2 BENEFITS OF WORKING WITH REFERRAL ORGANISATIONS
Working with a Referral Organisation helps lawyers and barristers to access and participate in impactful pro bono work.
Firstly, Referral Organisations make the process of connecting appropriate pro bono clients to appropriate pro bono providers simpler and more efficient. All Referral Organisations apply criteria to determine eligibility for their services. In this assessment, Referral Organisations consider factors including the applicant’s location, the income and assets of the applicant, the complexity and nature of the legal issue and the availability of other legal assistance and/or whether a matter raises an issue in the public interest. In conducting this assessment, Referral Organisations identify the people and organisations that are most in need of pro bono assistance and cannot access legal advice by other means. The assessment process can be complex and time-consuming. Having that work centralised within a pro bono service can mean a more efficient access to justice process from the perspective of clients and pro bono coordinators alike.
Secondly, working with a pro bono service enables legal services to accept pro bono referrals that are relevant to their areas of interest and expertise. Many Referral Organisations enable lawyers, law firms and barristers to specify the areas of law in which they have expertise, the types of clients they would like to assist, and any social justice issues in which they have particular interest. For example, membership with Justice Connect enables law firms looking to advise not-for-profit organisations as part of their pro bono practice to receive referrals from Not-for-profit Law, a specialist program supporting not-for-profit community organisations. Similarly, a law firm with particular interest in advising not-for-profit entities registered under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (Cth) may consider becoming a pro bono panel firm of LawHelp.
Third, Referral Organisations enable lawyers and barristers to contribute to policy and law reform issues. In its intermediary role, a pro bono service can be well positioned to identify systemic legal issues in the casework being run by the lawyers and barristers involved its service. For example, Justice Connect’s Homeless Law program makes regular submissions to the Victorian government based on the trends, case studies and statistics that emerge in the casework run by the lawyers involved in its program. Similarly, LawRight regularly makes program-informed submissions (for example, 2021 submissions on proposed child protection reforms in Queensland based on the casework delivered through it specialist Court and Tribunal Services).
3.3.3 LIST OF REFERRAL ORGANISATIONS
- Justice Connect
- LawHelp (coordinated through the Office of Registrar of Indigenous Corporations)
- Cancer Council Pro Bono Program
New South Wales
- Law Society of NSW Pro Bono Scheme
- NSW Bar Association Legal Assistance Referral Scheme
- Homeless Persons Legal Service (run by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre)
- Legal Aid NSW Duty Lawyer Scheme
- JusticeNet SA
- The Law Society of South Australia
- Adelaide Legal Outreach Service (run by the University of Adelaide Law School)
For more information about Referral Organisations see What Works, Chapter 9 Pro bono referral schemes and organisations.
This chapter was reviewed in 2022 by the Australian Pro Bono Centre and the pro bono team at MinterEllison, headed by Keith Rovers. The Centre acknowledges and is grateful for the generous contributions of all those who assisted with the 2022 refresh of the Australian Pro Bono Manual.
 For the contact details of the pro bono referral schemes and organisations in each State and Territory see the Centre’s website at Australian Pro Bono Centre, ‘Pro Bono Referral Schemes & Organisations’, Links to Legal Help (Web Page) <http://probonocentre.org.au/legal-help/pro-bono-referral-schemes-and-organisations/>.
 See further the case studies in Australian Pro Bono Centre, ‘Chapter 19: Case referral’, Pro Bono Partnerships and Models – A Practical Guide to What Works (Web Page) <http://probonocentre.org.au/whatworks/part-4/chap-19/>.
 See for example Justice Connect’s Pro Bono Portal (Web page) <https://justiceconnect.org.au/about/digital-innovation/gateway-project/pro-bono-portal/>
 See for example LawRight which also provides direct on-site services throughout Queensland for vulnerable people navigating civil court and tribunal proceedings, About LawRight (Web Page) <https://www.lawright.org.au/about/>
 Law Right, Submission to Community Support and Services Committee in relation to Child Protection Reform and other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (Web Page) <https://www.lawright.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/LawRight-Submission-on-Child-Protection-Reform-and-other-Legislation-Amendment-Bill-2021.pdf>