National Pro Bono Day takes place tomorrow, Tuesday 14 May 2019, as part of Law Week, providing an opportunity to celebrate the pro bono work undertaken by the Australian legal profession. This year, a number of Walks for Justice will be held to raise funds for local pro bono referral organisations.
The Queensland Legal Walk will raise funds for LawRight. It will commence at 6.30am for a 7am start on 14 May 2019 in Brisbane, Cairns, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba and Townsville.
In Western Australia, the Law Access Walk for Justice will raise funds for Law Access. It will commence at 7.30am on Tuesday 14 May 2019 in front of the Bell Tower on the Perth CBD foreshore.
In South Australia, the Walk for Justice will raise funds for JusticeNet SA. It will commence at 7.30am on Tuesday 21 May 2019 at the University of Adelaide Law School.
To celebrate National Pro Bono Day, the Australian Pro Bono Centre asked pro bono leaders across Australia to share their most memorable experiences:
CATRIONA MARTIN, Pro Bono Director - Asia Pacific, DLA Piper
My most memorable pro bono experience was travelling to the Copperbelt in Zambia to interview children who were detained in adult prisons. Over the course of a week, we interviewed more than 100 boys who had been incarcerated – primarily for petty crimes and minor offences – to understand the status of their cases, trace critical files, meet with magistrates and judges, and advocate for them in court to accelerate disposition of their cases. None of the boys we interviewed had ever had access to lawyers and in many cases, had no contact with family.
Since then, a large number of the boys have been released or transferred to juvenile facilities and we have traced their family members. We are now working with the Zambian Government to support a review of their child justice systems.
HEIDI NASH-SMITH, Partner, Wotton + Kearney
It is the human aspect of pro bono that most resonates for me: helping an individual to access justice can be profoundly impactful (for the client) and humbling (for me). An instance that stands out is from the refugee rights work we’ve been doing with the Human Rights Law Centre, providing representation and support to individuals transferred from offshore detention centres to Australia for urgent medical treatment. I’ve now worked with some of these clients for several years.
I remember visiting one client in detention and seeing the detrimental effect of that environment on her. We spoke of our hopes that one day we would be able to meet in different surrounds – the freedom of a coffee shop in Sydney. Many months later we were able to do exactly that and it was a very special moment. It provides a reminder to me that our advocacy can and does change lives. It can be the difference for a person. That is why pro bono legal assistance is so important.
ANTON HERMANN, Director Pro Bono & Community Investment, MinterEllison
In the end, it always comes back to people.
Justice Connect referred a matter to us where a warrant for possession had been purchased by a housing agency and the Police were due to undertake the eviction within days. We accompanied the client to the relevant tribunal and obtained an order to halt the eviction and to conduct a re-hearing of the substantive matter (which had been conducted ex parte).
When it became apparent that the client was being evicted due to the behaviour of her teenage son, we sought further instructions regarding the son’s medical condition. He had been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and had been excluded from the schooling system due to his challenging behaviour. We obtained written reports from his paediatrician and the student welfare officer at his former school to provide proper context regarding the son’s conduct at the family’s public housing estate.
Our submissions regarding disability discrimination, supported by the expert reports, led the housing agency to not only withdraw the eviction proceedings but to offer our client a transfer to a new property. Our client had sought a transfer to a new property in the months prior to the eviction proceedings but her requests had been declined.
Every client matters. Our collaboration with Justice Connect and the professionals in this matter turned a near-certain eviction into a fresh start for the family. The look of satisfaction on our client’s face – in contrast to her despondency when we first met – speaks volumes for the potential of legal representation to change people’s lives.
SARAH MORTON-RAMWELL, Partner, Global Head of Pro Bono and Corporate Responsibility, Ashurst
Working on the ground in Haiti is my most memorable pro bono experience. After the devastating earthquake in January 2010, many of the residents of Port-au-Prince were living in tent cities. They had no electricity, it was very dark at night, and sexual violence against women and children was at a horrific level.
I visited in 2011 to work on a number of projects, including a sexual violence legal education project, a project on the ethical reporting of sexual violence by journalists, as well as working on humanitarian parole cases to help women and their children move to a new country.
I remember sitting at the bottom of a women’s shelter in a tiny, hot and dark room with each potential client and a translator. Hearing firsthand the stories of these brave women and girls is something I will never forget.
JOANNA RENKIN, Partner, Lander & Rogers
Pro bono work resonates most when you know that you’ve had an impact on the way people can experience life or your work has changed the law for the better.
My most memorable moment as a pro bono lawyer was staying with a client in a remote part of the East Kimberley. After a day with Elders discussing legal issues, fishing and going on country — I lay curled up in my swag on a riverside beach looking at the stars and out of the still silence, hearing my generous hosts’ voices rising as they sang to their ancestors next to me.
My most recent pro bono experience has been the collegiate work with other lawyers to reunite an asylum seeker family and transfer their unwell child from Nauru to an Australian hospital. I’ll never forget this work or the distress and despair of the family. The power of being an Australian lawyer able to protect rights and the responsibility I believe comes with this skillset resonated strongly. Hearing of the arrival of the last family member into Australia gave me a real sense of achievement and relief.
DAVID HILLARD, Partner and National Practice Group Leader - Pro Bono, Clayton Utz
In a pro bono practice which goes back to 1997, it is hard to name a single most memorable moment. I always am amazed by how well pro bono work has been integrated into the practice of everyone at my firm, and how it truly has become a part of who we are and how we see ourselves. I’m proud of professional milestones like being made a pro bono partner in 2005, promoting a pro bono senior associate in 2006, reaching 500,000 hours of pro bono work in 2015 and appointing Jess Morath as our second pro bono partner in 2018.
Most of the time though, I think of the thousands of people we have acted for, and none is more memorable than our work for the late Andrew Mallard. Probably nothing will ever compare to having the High Court quash a murder conviction to release from gaol a client who had served almost 12 years for a crime he had not committed. Mr Mallard’s case was the last in Western Australia in which prosecutors could rely upon an unrecorded alleged “confession”. We talk a lot about the power of pro bono to transform peoples’ lives. There is no greater example of that for Clayton Utz than Andrew Mallard, who we helped to reunite with his family.
BROOKE MASSENDER, Head of Pro Bono, Herbert Smith Freehills
My most memorable matter would have to be my first ever defended hearing in the Local Court as a pro bono secondee to the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre. My client’s defence was that they had been set up by an imposter who had stolen their identity. It sounded utterly implausible. We eventually found an unlikely alibi in a bank statement featuring ATM withdrawals that put the client miles from the scene. An important early lesson in really listening to the client.
My most memorable clients are Stolen Generations survivors from the Kinchela Boys Home. Over the past decade we have worked together on many different challenges – a group claim for unpaid wages, police matters and advocating for a NSW Stolen Generations reparations compensation framework. The courage and resilience of the Uncles is always inspiring.
GEETHA NAIR, National Manager, Pro Bono Services, Australian Government Solicitor
The Australian Government Solicitor’s (AGS) pro bono program, which I have had the privilege of leading since 2011, is unique given AGS is a government entity and its ability to undertake pro bono work is regulated by its enabling legislation the Judiciary Act (1903)). However this has not deterred us from undertaking a wide range of pro bono work and a desire to make a significant contribution to disadvantaged members in our community, through our work in the many secondments we undertake with community legal centres and clearing houses and assistance to a range of not-for-profit organisations, charities and CLCs.
It is not easy to single out a specific moment or piece of work as every effort is important in the mosaic of promoting greater access to justice. However one of the proudest moments for me has to be when I stood on the stage to receive, on behalf of AGS, the Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility Award at the 2014 Australian Corporate Lawyers Association’s (ACLA) In-house Lawyer Awards given in recognition of AGG’s significant pro bono contribution. Following on from our win of the ACLA Corporate Social Responsibility Award , AGS was also featured along with multinational organisations based in the United States and Canada in the Association of Corporate Counsel’s (ACC) Leading Practice Profile article “Corporate Social Responsibility: Company and Legal Department Leading Practices for Aligning Sustainability, Corporate Citizenship and Business Purpose” another moment which allowed me to reflect on the impact of the work undertaken by my dedicated colleagues in the pro bono space.
NICKY FRIEDMAN, Director of Community Engagement, Allens
The most moving moment I have experienced as a pro bono lawyer took place on 24 June 2011, in a meeting room at our offices. I sat in that room with our longtime client Mr Neville Austin, who was accompanied on that momentous day by members of his family and close friends. Mr Austin and his supporters are members of the stolen generation. On that morning, history was made when the Victorian Government issued a written apology to Mr Austin for wrongfully taking him from his mother and failing to reunite them. The Government acknowledged the hurt and pain it had caused to Mr Austin and his mother and the long term harm he suffered as a consequence of being deprived of his family and his Aboriginal heritage.
Mr Austin was taken by the Victorian State Government from his mother’s care in 1964, when he was seven months old and, despite repeated attempts by her throughout the next years to find out where he was and have him restored to her care, the Government did nothing to assist her. Mr Austin was referred to Allens for pro bono assistance in 2007. The matter was the first stolen generation claim filed in the Victorian Supreme Court and the only matter to date to result in a public apology from Government acknowledging the harm done by its policy.
The impact of this apology for Mr Austin and his friends and family was apparent that June morning. The emotion and pride in the room were overwhelming. Mr Austin had stood up for his rights and those of his mother for many long years. His fight with government was a gruelling one often emotionally traumatic, always demanding. Allens stood by him through those years of complicated legal argument and painstaking research and evidence gathering but the emotional fortitude required to see it through had to come from him. The public apology he received and that he was able to read on television to the Australian community that day was a complete victory. To be able to support Mr Austin to achieve his victory was a privilege and a testament to the value of pro bono practice.
DAN CREASEY, Head of Pro Bono & Community Impact, King & Wood Mallesons
My most memorable pro bono experience was having the privilege of travelling to Yangon in Myanmar as part of a legal skills program in partnership with an international NGO. Across the 2 days, I joined another lawyer from Australia in delivering a bespoke course to about 25 lawyers from a youth legal service with offices all across the country. The intensive program was designed to enhance their legal skills in the areas of ethics, negotiation, drafting and planning, and was delivered with the assistance of some excellent interpreters!
It was incredibly rewarding to see and hear the impact the 2 days had on the lawyers. The program then continued the following year and some of the relationships made continue to this day.
HANNAH ROSE, Partner, Sparke Helmore Lawyers
One of my most memorable recent pro bono matters was helping someone who is living with terminal cancer to achieve his dream of setting up his charity. After a melanoma diagnosis some years ago, he has battled various forms of cancer and undergone a whole range of treatments to little avail, which he feels could have been avoided if he had been more educated about skin cancer and its prevention. He remains, however, incredibly positive and driven, his one mission to drive education and raise awareness of the disease to help protect future generations.
After unsuccessfully trying to navigate the legal system by himself, the client approached our firm to help him set up his organisation. It’s now a registered charity, and I’m pleased that our team was able to give them a great start to their mission to raise awareness and advocate for people who are living with melanoma. What made this experience particularly memorable, however, was the client’s unwavering positivity in the face of adversity, and his ability to rise above his suffering through making a difference in the world.
LEANNE COLLINGBURN, National Pro Bono Executive (Special Counsel), Norton Rose Fulbright
As part of our charitable initiative for 2018-2019, Norton Rose Fulbright Australia recently hosted our colleagues from Australia and around the world in Sydney for our Global Food Challenge with one of our pro bono clients, OzHarvest. Together our global cohort prepared over 1000 meals from rescued food for those in need. On the morning of our challenge we were welcomed by the Gweagal Clan of the Dharawal Nation at Kamay Botany Bay National Park.
My most memorable pro bono experience is sitting on a Q&A panel at that Welcome, beside my colleague Sonali Seneviratne, and clients, Raymond Ingrey (Chairman, Gujaga Foundation) and Christopher Ingrey (CEO, La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council) from the La Perouse Aboriginal community. I was asked to explain to our global audience why it was so important for our firm to work with Aboriginal communities like the La Perouse Aboriginal Community. As a corporate citizen that operates in Australia we are committed to doing our part to ensure that Australia’s First Nation cultures, the oldest continuous living cultures in the world, not only survive but thrive. We lend our legal expertise to community-led initiatives and outcomes. In return we work with remarkable people. We learn trust, respect, resilience and friendship and, we gain small insight into one of the most amazing cultures in the world.
KATE GILLINGHAM, Pro Bono Counsel, Baker & McKenzie
My most memorable pro bono experiences have involved litigation for refugees. Two experiences stand out.
I was involved in seeking urgent orders in the Federal Court for a young boy to have him and his family transferred from Nauru to Australia on urgent medical grounds. The young boy was diagnosed with resignation syndrome. He had previously attempted suicide and had not consumed food for weeks.
I acted for a Hazara refugee in the Federal Court to recover his passport which had been seized by the Australian Government on the basis that it was reasonable suspected to be a ‘bogus document’. The seizure of his passport had potential adverse consequences on the citizen applications and the permanent protection visas of our client and his two young sons.
We succeeded in both proceedings. The first client and his family are currently living in Australia. The second client and his family are now Australian citizens. These two matters had an enormous impact upon me. I have had the pleasure of meeting both clients and their young families and witnessing the impact of our work. Both matters are good examples of how the Australian legal system can level the playing field to ensure that everyone can access justice and be treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
PETER SEIDEL, Partner, Public Interest Law, Arnold Bloch Leibler
More than a quarter of a century has gone by since I joined Arnold Bloch Leibler. My most memorable pro-bono experience remains my first. I was lucky enough to join Arnold Bloch Leibler in 1993 to work on the Yorta Yorta native title claim. A lot has happened in my life over the intervening years. But as they say, the more things change… After all these years I am still honoured to call the Yorta Yorta peoples my clients and perhaps more importantly my friends.
It is such a privilege for me to have been entrusted over the journey with powerful and precious Yorta Yorta stories of connections to country, as part of their continuing and defiant struggle for true justice as the traditional owners of Yorta Yorta country.
LexisNexis’ (LN) mission is to advance the Rule of Law and employees are encouraged to seek out opportunities to make this happen. In discussions with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), I asked if there were opportunities for my colleagues to use their volunteer days from the LexisNexis Cares program. We then came to what was the first agreement in the partnership between AHRC and LN, to update the text of Federal Discrimination Law (FDL) utilising our core business skills of content development and management. FDL had not been updated since 2011 which meant it was yet to include significant changes in the law such as important new protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status and relationship status.
We pulled together a team of 10 legally-qualified individuals who ended up contributing over 350 hours of time to the project, far exceeding the 70 hours of volunteer time originally planned. We are very proud to continue working with AHRC on other pro bono opportunities, including the Human Rights and Technology project: tech.humanrights.gov.au.