Issue 35: December 2007/January 2008
Welcome to the eighth edition for 2007 of the eNewsletter of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre (the Centre). We now aim to bring you an issue every month with expanded content. To access the full stories click on the story heading. We welcome your feedback/contributions/ideas.
In this edition, read about:
- UK legal profession displays a proud unified front for National Pro Bono Week
- New Guide to Pro Bono Practices of NSW firms
- People News
- Clearing House News
- Firm Profile — There’s a Real Change About Town
- Intern Profile — Right to an Environment
- Pro Bono in the News
- Interesting Jobs
- Centre contact details
1. UK legal profession displays a proud unified front for National Pro Bono Week
UK National Pro Bono Week, held from 12-17 November 2007, was notable for the strong unity shown by the Law Society of England and Wales, the UK Bar, the Attorney-General and the Institute of Legal Executives who jointly stood together and celebrated the great “pro bono movement” despite the pressures and growing gaps in legal aid coverage in the UK. The week ended with the UK’s first Joint National Pro Bono Conference titled “Partnership in Pro Bono” at which the key message was the need for greater coordination.
Issues that will interest Australian practitioners include:
- New section 194 of the Legal Services Act which empowers UK courts to order cost recovery in pro bono litigation by ordering payment of the proceeds to a charity, to be prescribed by the Lord Chancellor that must facilitate the provision of legal advice or assistance which is free of charge.
- UK based firms embracing corporate social responsibility which is strongly client driven.
- The rising popularity of international pro bono and opportunities for Australian firms to participate.
- Strong law student participation in pro bono work particularly in the legal practice raining schools
- Release by Justice (an independent law reform and human rights organisation (the British section of the ICJ)), of a substantial new report titled “A British Bill of Rights –Informing the Debate”.
Next week the Centre will release a special edition of National Pro Bono News reporting more fully on UK’s National Pro Bono Week and current issues in the UK.
Centre Director John Corker will be making presentations in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in late January/early February on dates to be advised. Attendees will be able to access recent hard copy materials from the many firms, agencies, associations and units involved in pro bono in the UK.
2. New Guide to Pro Bono Practices of NSW firms
NSW Young Lawyers and the Centre will be launching their publication Pro Bono Practices at Freehills in Sydney on Thursday 13 December. It is the first independent and comprehensive guide on the pro bono practices of 22 of the largest law firms in NSW. ‘The Guide provides up-to-date information about the variety of structured and organised programs and community services offered by these firms for the profession, young lawyers and law students to compare and contrast. With detailed profiles of each firm’s pro bono philosophy and culture, the range of opportunities offered and an insider’s view, this Guide will be the go-to source for every lawyer doing or wanting to do pro bono work’, say Davyd Wong and John Corker.
Hard copies will be distributed to all law schools in NSW and to Young Lawyers. Electronic copies will be available on both the NSW Young Lawyers’ and the Centre’s websites.
3. People News
Skye Rose joins the Centre as its new Senior Project Manager hailing from Minter Ellison where she has been for the past four years working mainly in the litigation and IR groups. She was closely involved with Minter’s Community Investment Program providing legal advice through the HPLS in NSW and is a member of the NSW Young Lawyers Human Rights Committee.
Amy Fitzpatrick started this week as the new full time executive director of NSW PILCH, the position having been made available under a two year grant from the NSW Public Purpose Fund. She comes from the Consumer Law Centre in the ACT and also has experience in criminal law through her work at the ACT DPP. The appointment allows for Robin Banks, CEO of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, to step out of the role of PILCH Director after just over three years. Sandra Stevenson, full-time Co-ordinator of PILCH for the past 12 years, has taken up the role of Clerk at 11th Floor St James Hall Chambers.
Julie Bishop will be stepping down from the position of Director of National Association of Community Legal Centres in Australia and taking up the position of CEO of the Federation of Law Centres in the UK as of next year.
Bill Grant, Director of Legal Aid NSW will be taking up the position of Secretary-General of the Law Council of Australia from next year.
4. Clearing House News
Modelled on the highly successful Citizens Advice Bureau based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London which provides legal assistance to self-represented litigants, QPILCH has established the Self-Representation Civil Law Service which will operate from the Brisbane Law Courts Complex from December, staffed by a solicitor and paralegal with the support of volunteer lawyers from member law firms. The service will assist eligible litigants in person to conduct their civil matters in the Supreme and District Courts. Where possible, litigants with strong prospects of success will be referred to QPILCH member firms and barristers for representation. In February next year, a similar service will be provided for litigants in person in the Court of Appeal with the assistance of volunteer lawyers (including retired practitioners and practising barristers) and a student legal clinic. For further information email coordinator Erin Thomas at email@example.com.
The PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic (Vic) recently completed a major research project that looks at ways to provide targeted legal assistance to women and children who are at risk of homelessness or who have become homeless as a result of family violence. Over a period of three months, the Clinic undertook consultations with family violence, homelessness, legal, government and women’s service sectors and conducted comprehensive research on issues around law, family violence and homelessness. The result of the Clinic’s research is a report entitled ‘Outside Glass Houses: Mapping the Legal Needs of Women at Risk of Homelessness Escaping Family Violence’ available at www.pilch.org.au.
The report maps the legal needs of women at risk, the services available to them and the ways that these services are accessed. A key finding of the project was that while this vulnerable group has reasonable access to crisis assistance (including family law, intervention orders and child protection), it does not have adequate access to legal services that will assist them to resolve their post-crisis legal needs. Over the last 6 years, the Clinic has established expertise in dealing with post-crisis legal needs including credit/debt, mortgages, tenancy and other civil law matters. The Clinic is now planning the establishment of a new outreach service that will specifically target women at risk of homelessness.
The Law Society of WA’s Pro Bono Referral Service has recently upgraded its referral database system. As part of the process, the pro bono referral register was updated by inviting firms to nominate interest in receiving pro bono referrals and the categories of law of potential referrals. Good initial interest has been received from firms about being included on the updated register. More firms are encouraged to indicate their areas of interest. Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
New South Wales
David Robb, partner at Allens, has been appointed president of PILCH at this year’s AGM with John Sheahan SC.stepping down after three years at the helm. During the year PILCH received 353 requests for assistance, an increase of 41% from 2005-2006. 139 were referred to PILCH members for assistance, a 27% increase in referrals. 104 matters were declined of which 92 requests were not able to be dealt with as they were outside the PILCH criteria. 65 of these were referred to another agency.
HPLS assisted 525 clients (a 36% increase) with the top four areas of assistance being criminal, tenancy, family, fines and victims comp.
5. Firm Profile – There’s a Real Change About Town
When Henry Davis York (HDY) picked up the Pro Bono Partnership Award last month (Nov ’07) for work with the Homicide Victims Support Group, it was for a program which had been instigated by the personal experience of one of its own lawyers.
And while that lawyer has since joined another firm, HDY’s commitment to the cause has not faltered.
We are keen to continue our partnership with the Homicide Victims Support Group
The lawyer approached the firm’s Pro Bono Committee about two years ago to float the idea of the partnership. We thought it was a great idea and have continued our work with the HVSG since then. We encourage our lawyers to refer potential pro bono work to us that they might come across outside the firm.
As a proportion of our staff is involved in volunteer and community activities outside the firm, we see this as a good source of potential pro bono matters.
— Melanie Tully, Pro Bono Co-ordinator with HDY
Requests to HDY for pro bono assistance come from a variety of sources, with about three requests on average per week. The take-up rate of these requests can vary, depending on whether the matter meets the firm’s policy and there is lawyer capacity.
‘We are a member of the Public Interest Law Clearing House and the firm’s Pro Bono partner Kathy Merrick is a member on their Board. Requests to PILCH are generally reviewed before they come to us, so we tend to accept most of the matters referred to us by them.’
PILCH is also aware of the firm’s profile, realising that it may not have the requisite expertise in, say, family law or complex criminal matters. Unsolicited requests from the community can be less appropriate and are therefore not able to be taken on.
‘Our pro bono committee will consider each matter as it relates to the firm’s policy for accepting pro bono referrals. Once the Committee decides that the request meets our policy, then we approach the relevant practice group to see if there is sufficient capacity to work on the matter. We like to return a response to the request within a few days if possible,’ says Tully.
A firm of 200 lawyers and 46 partners based only in Sydney, HDY is not a large firm, but believes that it is probably punching above its weight in the pro bono domain. Though not compulsory, it encourages lawyers to undertake pro bono work and such work is counted towards the billable hours target, with no cap on the time spent.
Tully also says that once a request has met the policy criteria, they try to take it on, even if they are unable to undertake the work immediately.
‘We try not to let matters go for capacity reasons. For example, we sometimes get requests for transactional pro bono assistance which is not necessarily urgent, and which gives us greater flexibility. However, if the request for assistance involves an urgent litigious matter, capacity can become more of an issue.’
In addition to the one-off matters, HDY takes part in a number of regular programs, including the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic at The Station and Lawyers Encouraging and Assisting Promising Students.
‘We are always on the look out for new pro bono programs. They can be an attractive option for lawyers wanting to get involved because of the regular nature of the work that allows for organising their commitments and permits an opportunity to become knowledgeable and useful in an area in which the lawyer may otherwise not practice.’
The Homicide Victims Support Group, which helps the family members of those murdered to navigate their way through coronial matters, can be emotionally fraught for those lawyers involved. However, they keep putting their hand up again for more. ‘They get a lot out of it. It’s quite different to what they are doing normally and it resonates with them,’ says Tully.
‘There seems to be a greater awareness of pro bono now. We actively promote the program internally and there’s a lot of word of mouth. We also find that young lawyers are increasingly concerned about pro bono.’
In an environment where firms are vying for the best legal talent, does Tully believe that her firm’s pro bono record is a recruitment attraction? She’s not sure, but ‘I’d be very excited if it was!’
She certainly believes that a good pro bono commitment is something that clients will be demanding of their legal service providers over time.
‘We’re seeing a trend with clients becoming more concerned about what suppliers are doing across the board, including law firms. There’s a real change about town in the expected minimum standards for pro bono programs,’ says Tully.
6. Intern Profile — Right to an Environment
Is there a human right to an environment? It’s a question that has exercised the mind of Christina Trahanas, a final-year law student at UNSW undertaking an internship in the Public Interest Internship Program coordinated by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre.
Trahanas has recently completed an internship with the Secretariat for the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, a member-based organisation that supports the establishment and strengthening of national human rights institutions through training, capacity building, networks and staff exchanges.
Specifically, Trahanas was working with the Forum’s Advisory Council of Jurists.
‘There is one jurist from every member country and each year they will receive a topic which they discuss and upon which they make recommendations. This year’s topic was human rights and the environment,’ says Trahanas.
Terms of reference included such questions as: does the human right to an environment exist internationally? if it doesn’t exist, how can we advocate for that right? and, do state and non-state actors have any responsibility for environmental harms they cause, and environmental harms they cause which also affect people?
‘Meeting at a four day annual conference, the jurists formulate draft observations and recommendations which are then elaborated into a final report. This year, the Australian jurist, Andrea Durbach, was also the Chair of the Council,’ says Trahanas.
In researching the topic, a questionnaire was provided to all the member countries asking them to provide information on the current state of rights to the environment in their own country. Trahanas assisted with the collation of this information.
Interestingly, Trahanas says that the right to an environment needs to be reviewed in respect of the right to work.
‘There are people who rely on the land for their living, particularly those in developing countries and Indigenous people. There is also the issue of the right to a healthy working environment, so that if there are pollutants that may be inhaled on the job, for example, there should be protection provided.
‘In certain industries, such as coal mining, there is a need to use the land and the land may be harmed, so there is a tension that exists between employment and the environment,’ says Trahanas.
She has found the experience of delving deeply into a specific area of legal knowledge a fascinating one, in particular the chance to see the process of an inquiry come together.
The National Pro Bono Centre co-ordinates public interest internships, which are available to final and penultimate year law students at UNSW. Students work one day a week for three months with a diverse range of organizations such as HREOC, the NSW Attorney-General’s Department, Get UP! and Voiceless. Due to the popularity of the program we are looking for additional organisations who would be interested in taking a student in semester 1 or 2 next year. Please ring Amanda on (02) 9385 7381 or email email@example.com if you might be able to offer a placement.
7. Pro Bono in the News
A monthly round-up of pro bono mentions in the Australian media
US man continues extradition battle (The Age, Oct 26)
Justice Cowdroy orders former US army employee facing extradition from Australia for murder in the States to receive urgent pro bono assistance.
‘Fair go’ for EI sufferers (The Maitland Mercury, Oct 24)
High profile Sydney law firm to provide pro bono assistance for horse owners on class action over equine influenza compensation.
How to meet Gen Y’s expectations (Human Resources, Oct 30)
Retaining Gen Y staff includes provision of corporate social responsibility programs, pro bono work and the chance to work with charities.
Human rights advocate Julian Burnside QC (ABC Sunday Profile, Nov 4)
Burnside mentions Spare Lawyers for Refugee, the pro bono group he set up to help manage asylum-seeker cases.
Landslide victims continue insurance battle (ABC News, Nov 7)
Newcastle lawyers provide pro bono assistance to homeowners seeking insurance payments after June storms.
Plenty of legal fire power as pro bono teams take aim (Business Spectator [source: The Australian] Nov 9)
More than 20 Australian lawyers provide pro bono assistance in ‘Right to Know’ campaign targeting erosion of freedom of information and freedom of the press.
New-age lawyers (Adelaide Advertisers, Nov 10)
New law graduates talk about attraction of job being their firm’s pro bono work for charitable foundation.
Solidly Labor with a deep Green tinge (The Mercury, Nov 12)
Review of the seat of Denison in Tasmania in run up to the federal election where sitting member Duncan Kerr continues to appear as a barrister, mainly pro bono, in major public interest litigation before the HC.
Top legal support for Kessing (Business Spectator [source: The Australian], Nov 15)
Australian Customs officer convicted of leaking confidential government document has gained pro bono assistance from Stephen Keim SC for his appeal in NSW Supreme Court.
ALP offer melange of characters (The Age, Nov 26)
Holocaust denier defends views (The Australian, Nov 28)
Lawyer appears pro bono for Adelaide Holocaust denier.
Murder trial’s focus in Turkey challenged (Australian Christian Channel [source: Baptist Press] 30 Nov)
Twenty lawyers, most working pro bono for families of three murdered Christians in the trial of five Turkish men, claim investigations have focussed on the religious activities of the victims, rather than the crime.
8. Interesting jobs
PILCH (NSW) is seeking a full time Co-ordinator. Those interested in applying should contact Amy Kilpatrick on 02 8898 6515 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Human Rights Law Resource Centre, based in Melbourne, is seeking a Human Rights lawyer to commence work in late-February/early-March 2008 on an initial 12 month fixed-term contract.
The lawyer will be admitted to practice (or eligible for admission) as a barrister or solicitor in Victoria, and have at least 2-4 years post-admission experience as a lawyer.
The Lawyer will undertake and support casework, strategic litigation, advocacy, legal education and human rights capacity building in the Centre’s priority areas, which are: the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities; socio-economic rights, especially health and housing; equality rights, especially for people with disabilities; and the rights of those in detention.
Salary is in the area of $60-68,000 (+ salary packaging). Applications should be in the form of a CV and cover letter and should be sent to Phil Lynch at email@example.com (ph: 03 9225 6695). Closing date for applications is 9 January 2008.
The Aurora Project is looking for an experienced Learning and Organisational Development Manager based in Coogee, Sydney, to manage capacity-building initiatives, oversee all learning and development programs and manage a range of organisational development projects (eg, mentoring programs) for Indigenous Native Title Representative Bodies throughout Australia (see www.auroraproject.com.au).
The Aurora Project has been operating for 18 months and focuses on professional development in law, anthropology, management, education and other disciplines working in the Native Title area.
The position is initially for 8 months (but likely to extended beyond this) and is a wonderful and unique opportunity for the right person.
For information, please contact the Director, Richard Potok on 02 9385 9044.
Homeless Persons Legal Service, based at PILCH in Victoria is seeking a lawyer to be Manager/Principal Solicitor for the Service. Salary offered is $65,000 plus super. Applications close 18 January 2008. Inquiries about the position should be directed to Caroline Adler at PILCH on (03) 92256680.
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National Pro Bono Resource Centre
phone: +61 2 9385 7381
fax: +61 2 9385 7375
post: The Law Building, UNSW, Sydney NSW 2052