Issue 70: December 2011/January 2012
Welcome to the December 2011/January 2012 end-of-year edition of the e-Newsletter of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre. We welcome your feedback/contributions/ideas – please email firstname.lastname@example.org. In this edition, read about:
We thank the Hon. Robert McClelland as Commonwealth Attorney-General for his recognition and strong support of the legal profession’s pro bono legal work and we congratulate and welcome the Hon Nicola Roxon as the incoming Attorney-General. As she said in her maiden parliamentary speech in 1998,
“I would hope that in 26 years time [a reference to the time that the Hon Ralph Willis held the seat of Gellibrand prior to the Hon Nicola Roxon winning the seat] we have a legal system in this country which protects people, and which is cheap and accessible to everybody. Without this we cannot ensure that our community will continue to have a peaceful way of resolving disputes. We must not weaken the system to the extent that we leave the powerful to run roughshod over others, or worse resort to violence and intimidation to get their way.”
Many in the legal profession share this vision of access to law for everybody and continue to contribute to it by providing legal services without charge for the public good. Some of the pro bono legal work undertaken this year has been nothing short of extraordinary in seeking to have the rule of law applied and the rights of individuals according to law pursued so as to make Australian society a better and fairer place for all. The Centre congratulates these lawyers. You know who you are! You should be proud of your contribution!
But at the heart of the pro bono effort is a symbiotic relationship between government and the private sector where government bears the ultimate responsibility for vulnerable people who need access to legal advice and representation. It is vital that government upholds its part of the bargain.
The Centre’s Board and Advisory Council met recently in Sydney for its annual strategic planning meeting. Members of the Board and Advisory Council come from most States and Territories of Australia and from key organisations across the legal assistance sector. This is a valuable forum in which to test the relevance and usefulness of current work and review priorities in accordance with the Centre’s Strategic Plan.
2012 will be the tenth year of operation of the Centre with a tenth anniversary event planned for August 2012. The bi-annual law firm pro bono survey will be conducted in 2012 and the Centre will continue with its emphasis on identifying unmet legal need and assisting mid tier firms to develop their pro bono practices. The date is set for the fourth National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference. It will be held in Melbourne on 21 and 22 March 2013.
A key project of the Centre in 2012 will be the “What Works in Pro Bono” research project that will involve broad consultation with pro bono service providers, seekers and brokers. The aim is to produce a publication that outlines best practice working models of pro bono legal assistance, identifies key issues in service delivery and assists seekers to better design and develop project proposals that will be appropriate for pro bono assistance. It aims to provide an educational resource relevant right across the legal assistance sector aimed at maximising capacity for pro bono relationship to yield positive results. The models of best practice will be supported by case studies.
The Centre also intends to tackle the difficult question of why it is so hard to find pro bono legal assistance in family law matters. By articulating the reasons for this, the Centre hopes to illuminate what needs to be done to meet this most insistent and ongoing unmet legal need.
The Centre has published a new paper titled What is Social Justice? with the aim of assisting pro bono legal providers to better understand the concept of social justice and to help them to ground their pro bono work in a social justice framework.
The paper provides an overview of the historical development of the concept, and identifies particular themes which are emphasised by differing interpretations of social justice. The paper also discusses the relationship between social justice, social inclusion, and human rights, and provides examples of two disadvantaged groups to illustrate the identified themes.
While it is an academic paper, it is hoped that with a greater understanding of what constitutes social justice, readers will be able to more easily identify the particular construction of social justice that is reflected in their programs and projects, and see their work within a developed framework.
The paper has been prepared with assistance of an expert reference panel:
The Centre intends for this to be the first in a series of occasional papers providing a more in-depth and academic treatment of issues relevant to the provisions of pro bono legal services.
A restructure of the staffing at PILCH NSW, with an increased emphasis on efficiencies in the clearinghouse and the development of new projects, saw John Pinnock leave as CEO at the beginning of December. Katrina Ironside, Acting Coordinator and Principal Solicitor, is now in charge.
Building on work done throughout the year by both organisations, the Boards of PILCH NSW and PILCH Victoria have decided to explore the merits of partnership between the two organisations and engaged a consultant to obtain the views of key stakeholders about this proposal. The consultant’s report is expected to be considered by the two boards in May 2012.
PILCH NSW intends to engage a new part-time Senior Solicitor in early 2012 (see below) and recently reached its 100th client contact in its Offshore Asylum Seekers Project commenced in August 2011.
For almost five years, Parramatta City Council (PCC) in Sydney’s West has had its eye on social enterprises. In order to tackle social exclusion, the Council established a Social Enterprise program to nurture social enterprises with a view to facilitating social, environmental and cultural outcomes for the region. Since its establishment, the successful program has provided development support to 21 social enterprises in the region through funding and support services. These social enterprises range from artistic or cultural endeavours to more traditional businesses involved in the business of running a cafe, catering or providing locally produced organic fruits and vegetables directly from farmers to consumers. But they all have one thing in common: they provide unique responses to social and environmental issues in the Parramatta local government area.
In April 2010, the Centre partnered with PCC to establish a Pro Bono Legal Panel to assist social enterprises with their legal needs. The panel was established as a pilot project in July 2010, and has six members: The Arts Law Centre, Blake Dawson, Dooley & Associates, Henry Davis York, Phang Legal and Sparke Helmore Lawyers. During the first 12 months of the project, panel members assisted social enterprises with issues of insurance, incorporation, legal structure, risk management and contracts.
In September 2011, the Centre conducted a review of the pilot project by interviewing panel members about their experiences and surveying those social enterprises that had received pro bono legal assistance through a panel member. In addition to several practical issues, the review highlighted the unique nature of the social enterprise sector – but it also raised the question ’Where does pro bono legal work fit in?’ For a copy of the report please contact the Centre.
Social enterprises differ from the ‘traditional’ recipient of pro bono legal work – the client who is disadvantaged or marginalised and has no other way of obtaining access to justice or an organisation that works to assist those people. They sit somewhere between a private commercial enterprise and a charity, but often compete in the private market and do so in order to generate a profit. Where they differ from a commercial enterprise is by having a social, cultural or environmental focus that is core to their purpose and by limited distribution of profits. However, the definitions and practices between social enterprises vary – some may qualify for pro bono assistance whilst others may not.
Compared to the United Kingdom and the US, the social enterprise sector in Australia is still in its infancy, but is growing rapidly. Social enterprises are being recognised as an innovative way to tackle social problems and to deliver services. But there is still much work to be done to tackle issues of regulation and definition. The Centre will continue to monitor developments in this area.
The Law Society of Western Australia’s Strategic Plan 2010-2013 has as one of its strategies to encourage pro bono among the profession and a key outcome is to promote the societies and professions commitment to pro bono. In accordance with its Strategic Plan the Society has joined forces with the Community Legal Centres Association (WA) to establish a reference group to explore the feasibility of establishing a PILCH for WA.
Recently Maxina Martellotta, Executive Manager, Community Services at the Law Society and Myles Kunzli, Executive Director of the CLCs Association (WA) convened a meeting of invited stakeholders that included three law firms the WA Bar Association, the Legal Aid Commission of WA, the Aboriginal Legal Service (WA) and the University of Western Australia Law School and Street Law.
The attendees were positive about establishing a PILCH or some similar entity in WA and another meeting is planned for the new year to progress the difficult issues of sourcing funds or pro bono assistance to undertake a scoping study which will examine the feasibility of establishing a WA PILCH and the possible model for such an entity.
When the Centre speaks to students and new lawyers about pro bono we are always careful to correct the misconception that pro bono is all about groundbreaking high-profile court cases. We note that upholding access to justice can be achieved in a myriad of ways, from assisting a homeless person appeal against infringements or helping a not-for-profit organisation incorporate to community legal education and beyond. Most pro bono work will not match up to the depiction in the movie ‘Erin Brockovich’ or American television.
That said, sometimes pro bono work can have a major impact not only on the lives of those involved but also on laws and policy. The story from the last issue of National Pro Bono News on the winners of this year’s Pro Bono Partnership Award at the NSW Justice Awards is a good example, involving a community legal centre, numerous law firms and the NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions agitating successful for law reform in relation to victims of sexual assault invoking privilege against revelation of their private counselling records.
An extremely high profile example involves the successful High Court challenge in relation to the ‘Malaysia Solution’ for asylum seekers. The M70 High Court decision has had a significant impact on migration policy in Australia. The team that mounted the successful proceedings include Debbie Mortimer SC and Richard Niall SC, Allens Arthur Robinson, the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre and a number of junior barristers.
The impact of these proceedings are reflected in the number of awards since awarded to the team, including the Australian Human Rights Commission Law Award, the Federation of Community Legal Centres Tim McCoy Award and the Law Institute of Victoria’s President’s Honorary Award. Debbie Mortimer SC was also awarded the Law Council of Australia President’s Medal for her long involvement in pursuing public interest law matters.
The team did not just get together this year – each member individually has worked extensively for asylum seekers, and together they have worked on matters that were precursors to the M70 decision, including the M61/M69 High Court proceedings that significantly affected the law to provide natural justice rights for offshore asylum seekers. They all work in much lower profile ways, which don’t always involve appearing in Court – for example, Debbie Mortimer SC and Richard Niall SC were heavily involved in the Victorian Bar Pro Bono Scheme’s training in refugee law for barristers and it is wonderful to see recipients of that training now acting as juniors in these proceedings.
While it is true that not all pro bono practitioners, including some in the M70 team, are comfortable with awards and public recognition for doing work they regard as a professional and/or moral obligation, these inarguably serve to highlight the value of different players in the social justice sphere getting together to work for a common cause. We congratulate each member of the team not only for their success but also for highlighting the need for firms and individuals to work with others outside their own walls in the broader pro bono community.
TressCox is a leading mid tier law firm with offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with almost 200 lawyers. The firm recently reorganised its pro bono activities and now has a dedicated Pro Bono Team led by Special Counsel, Nicola Arvidson (see left), based in the Sydney office, who is responsible for overseeing and managing the firm’s national pro bono program. TressCox has recently signed up to the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target and is a member of PILCH (VIC), QPILCH and PILCH NSW.
Nicola reports that the pro bono practice is growing strongly and managing to obtain work consistent with the pro bono practice’s primary focus on organisations with a health or disability focus. TressCox Pro Bono clients include Australian Red Cross Society, Transplant Australia, The Northcott Society, The Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Cerebral Palsy Support Network, St John of God (Accord) and the NSW AMA Charitable Foundation to name just a few. As of October 2011 Nicola has been joined by a full time dedicated pro bono lawyer in Indiana Bridges (see below) who moved from Melbourne such was the attraction of the position.
Nicola says that three recent matters referred through the Office of the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations Law Help scheme highlights the challenging work required to be undertaken on variety of legal issues ranging from native title to property.
The Pro Bono Team has brought together the long term assistance that the firm has provided to significant community organisations with a new emphasis on a coordinated and dedicated team, whilst still ensuring other legal team members continue their active involvement in pro bono work. The practice is focusing on structuring advice to to NFPs and charitable organisations, revenue and tax law (exemptions, concessions and DGR), advice on constitutions and charitable trust deeds, governance of charitable institutions, tenancy matters, property and conveyancing for NFPs, employment/industrial law, contractual matters and intellectual property and has assisted individual clients through the self representation service at QCAT and the Cancer Council Legal Referral Service.
Well done TressCox!
The Melbourne Law School at the University of Melbourne is looking for a Director for its new Public Interest Law Program. The position of Director is a Teaching Specialist academic position established to oversee and develop a public interest law program at the Law School. This new role will have a particular focus on establishing, managing, coordinating and, as appropriate, delivering public interest law offerings, including a public interest lawyer subject with clinical placements attached and a subject in which law students will teach some legal subjects in state secondary schools.
More information can be found at http://jobs.unimelb.edu.au/jobDetails.asp?sJobIDs=785105&sView=brief&stp=AW&sLanguage=en. Applications close Sunday 15 January 2012.
The Public Interest Law Clearing House of New South Wales (PILCH NSW) in Sydney is looking for a Senior Solicitor to work 3 days a week in the PILCH legal practice for 6 months. The successful applicant must be available to start in January 2012. The purpose of the position is to manage referrals through the clearinghouse and to work closely with the Coordinator/Principal Solicitor to develop public interest projects and maintain relationships with members and key stakeholders.
More information can be found at www.pilchnsw.org.au/how-can-you-help-us/opportunities-at-pilch/. Applications close Thursday 5 January 2012.
Articles of interest to the pro bono community from October – December 2011. Click through to read any news article in full.
7 December 2011 – The Guardian
5 December 2011 – Lawyers Weekly
5 December 2011 – The Age
28 November 2011 – Washington Post
27 November 2011 – Lawyers Weekly
21 November 2011 – The New Lawyer
18 November 2011 – TrustLaw
16 November 2011 – TrustLaw
15 November 2011 – Lawyers Weekly
7 November 2011 – Law Society Gazette (UK)
7 November 2011 – Lawyers Weekly
7 November 2011 – TrustLaw
4 November 2011 – Verizon Communications