Issue 38: March 2008
Welcome to the March edition for 2008 of the eNewsletter of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre (the Centre). We 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:
- National Survey Report Released
- If You Missed the Presentations
- Updated Pro Bono Practices Guide
- LIV updates its pro bono policy
- Secondee Profile — ‘Everything I was expecting, and more!’
- New Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas
- Pro Bono in the News
- Centre contact details
1. National Survey Report Released
A survey of 887 solicitors conducted by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre, has revealed that about $250 million of work was undertaken on a pro bono basis by Australian solicitors in 2007 and the figure continues to rise. On average this amounts to every solicitor giving one week each year of their time free of charge to the community.
The survey launched on 19 February 2008 covered solicitors from all states and territories, from the big and small end of town, from city to country and remote areas. A range of practice areas, ages and levels of seniority were surveyed.
Centre Director, John Coker noted that the bourgeoning support for pro bono can be attributed to the positive impact it has on the solicitors as well as the broader community.
Pro bono makes sense. Not only does it provide disadvantaged individuals and the organisations that support them with access to justice, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences in a solicitor’s life. Almost every solicitor undertakes some form of pro bono work.
Key findings of the report were:
- 80 percent of respondents conducted pro bono work in the previous 12 months.
- 52 percent reported an increase in pro bono work compared with the previous year.
- Solicitors spent an average of 42.5 hours doing pro bono work in the last year, with 60 percent undertaking more than 35 hours of pro bono work during the past 12 months.
- Solicitors are undertaking significant amounts of pro bono work in their own time as well as with their employer.
- 71 per cent of solicitors thought that their law society should issue a policy statement about solicitors’ commitment to pro bono. Of those, 87 per cent thought that the statement should include a voluntary pro bono goal such as the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target.
The survey revealed that the main obstacle to doing pro bono work was lack of time, followed by insufficient expertise in relevant areas of law and lack of professional recognition.
A pivotal theme emerging from the survey is that solicitors undertaking pro bono require better support and recognition. Many respondents from large firms called for greater recognition of the valuable contribution of their pro bono work, not just in their performance appraisal, but by giving credit for pro bono work in relation to their billable and financial targets.
These obstacles have; however, done very little to dampen the enthusiasm for pro bono as 94 percent of respondents said that solicitors should undertake pro bono work.
The main report, State by State reports and the media release are available for download by clicking here.
2. If You Missed The Presentations
A series of presentations by Centre Director, John Corker, covering UK National Pro Bono Week held November 2007, a UK survey of solicitors and their pro bono work and the Centre’s findings from its national survey have been held in Brisbane and Sydney with one to be held in Melbourne on Tuesday 4 March 2008. The presentations compare the results of the Centre’s national survey of Australian solicitors and their pro bono activity with the UK experience.
We can’t provide the “Pro bono matters” DVD online but you can click here to access the Powerpoint presentation.
3. Updated Pro Bono Practices Guide
In December 2007, the Centre and the NSW Young Lawyers launched “Pro Bono Practices — a Guide to the pro bono practices of 22 of the largest law firms in NSW”. The Guide profiles each firm’s pro bono practice under common criteria thus allowing the reader to compare and contrast the practices. The Guide will be distributed to all final year law students in NSW this year and plans are underway to develop a national guide for next year. There have been some slight amendments to the text and distribution of hard copies will take place with an erratum. View the revised guide by clicking here.
4. The Law Institute of Victoria updates its pro bono policy
In an amended LIV policy statement dated 24 January 2008, the LIV reaffirms its support of the legal profession’s ethical obligation to enhance access to justice for disadvantaged persons or charitable and community organisations, and promote the public interest by encouraging the voluntary contribution of its members to undertake pro bono work.
The policy substantially adopts the 1998 Law Council of Australia’s definition of pro bono work and notes that the LIV “seeks to encourage the existing diversity of pro bono service, and therefore does not seek to differentiate between categories of pro bono work performed by reference to prioritising or valuing one type of pro bono work over another “.
The reference to not differentiating between categories of pro bono work by reference to valuing, i.e counting pro bono by category, seems to indicate opposition to the Victorian Government’s panel tender scheme where panel firms are required to count the value of “approved causes” of pro bono work to meet their obligation under their contract with the government.
Surprisingly, the policy specifically indicates that the LIV does not support the fixing of aspirational targets for pro bono work. Click here to view the policy.
5. Secondee Profile — ‘Everything I was expecting, and more!’
Undertaking a secondment in one of Freehills’ pro bono programs is so attractive that lawyers with the firm have to line up and apply for the position. The opportunity to immerse themselves in the work, full-time, for six months, rather than doing a little pro bono on the side when time permits, has proved enormously rewarding.
For Ben Goodman, who has just completed his half year stint with the Shopfront in Sydney’s Darlinghurst, the drawcard was the chance to do court work — at the Shopfront he found himself in court at least ‘four days out of five’.
‘I spoke to past secondees about the type of work they did at the Shopfront and I applied to work there specifically. It was certainly everything I was expecting, and more,’ says Goodman.
The other thing that appealed to him was the opportunity to assist some of Sydney’s most vulnerable young people. Shopfront’s charter is to assist people aged 25 years and under who are homeless or otherwise disadvantaged. Ben Goodman, Secondee.
Freehills offers six secondee placements in Sydney: two at the Shopfront, two with the Kingsford Legal Centre (KLC), and two at the NSW Women’s Legal Service in Sydney and Walgett. The Shopfront and KLC have been providing continuous service for 15 years and 25 years respectively, and the former is the longest running legal centre for homeless youth.
‘The majority of my workload was taken up by criminal law matters, everything from offensive conduct, larceny, assault, affray and armed robbery,’ says Goodman. ‘This involves doing pleas, bail applications and, for clients with mental illnesses, s32 applications. We also run our own hearings and appeals. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for vulnerable young people to fail to turn up at court and be convicted in their absence as a result. The failure to turn up could be due to mental health issues or homelessness. Sometimes the first step we take in assisting a client is to apply to the court to annul a conviction.’
Goodman also found himself doing advocacy work for clients such as writing letters seeking compensation, as well as AVOs, and fine and debt related matters.
‘For some of our clients, the non-payment of fines is the inroad into the criminal justice system. Many of our clients find themselves in court on driving related offences due to the failure to pay train fines,’ says Goodman, who claims that something as minor as not buying a train ticket can escalate into a major problem due to the licence suspensions the RTA imposes for fine default.
Jane Sanders, the principal solicitor at Shopfront, is very active in providing education and training to youth workers and social work students on the legal issues that confront them and their clients, such as police powers and client confidentiality. I ran two of these sessions and had a fantastic response from those attending. There was a constant flow of questions. They were listening and engaged.— Ben Goodman
Goodman claims that the skills required in the office were much the same as those he used at the centre. ‘Many of the skills I’ve learned here are transferable to the office, especially the managing of matters and developing a relationship of trust with your clients. You are given a lot of responsibility and autonomy at the Shopfront and you can decide how a matter will proceed and be conducted,’ says Goodman, who works in litigation at Freehills.
I had one civil matter at Shopfront in which my client is suing the State of NSW. He was a passenger in a car when his friend, the driver, was shot by a police officer. It’s still in court and I’ll finalise that, and a couple of other matters, when I’m back at Freehills.
— Ben Goodman
It does seem that, once their placement is over, the lawyers have developed an abiding interest in the program. Rather than getting it out of their system, they catch the pro bono bug.
One former secondee, Brooke Massender, has developed a scheme for Freehills’ solicitors to provide pro bono assistance to Shopfront clients on victims’ compensation matters. ‘Brooke’s scheme has allowed the Shopfront to help more people in need of assistance’.
‘The secondment at Shopfront is a tremendously rewarding and an unforgettable experience. I would encourage anyone thinking about applying to do so!’
6. New Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas
On 22 January 2008 the Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas (PBDA) was launched in New York. It is the first collaborative endeavour among private lawyers in the Americas to articulate the lawyer’s professional responsibility to promote access to justice and provide pro bono legal assistance on behalf of the poor.
The declaration is the result of the development of several initiatives in Latin America that commenced in 2001. It provides a common definition of pro bono and in signing the declaration; lawyers are pledging to undertake a minimum of 20 hours of pro bono work per year.
Signing of the declaration commenced in July 2007 and to date more than 150 law firms, bar associations and law schools in the Americas have endorsed the PBDA.
The launch marks the close of the inaugural signing period and the beginning of a three-year period to develop projects and create partnerships and institutions to enable lawyers through the Americas to meet their commitment to provide 20 hours of pro bono work per year. A full copy of the press release is available here.
The National Pro Bono Resource Centre launched the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target in April 2007, of 35 hours per lawyer.
7. Pro Bono In The News
A round-up of pro bono mentions in the Australian media — February 2008
Nuttal children received less than half of loan: court (The Age, 6 February 2008)
Former Beattie government minister, Gordon Nuttal, being represented pro bono.
Fury as councillors approve foreshore project (The Age & Brisbane Times, 8 February 2008)
Team of lawyers, some of them working pro bono, represent UnChain St Kilda in their battle against council approval to redevelop St Kilda triangle site.
HDY’s pro bono efforts recognised (Asian Legal Online, 9 February 2008)
Henry Davis York has been presented with the 2007 Pro Bono Partnership Award by the Law & Justice Foundation of New South Wales for its services to the Homicide Victims Support Group.
Allen & Gledhill makes pro bono promise (Asian Legal Online,10 February 2008)
Singapore’s largest law firm has launched a formal pro bono program.
Award for pro bono work (The Australian, 15 February 2008)
A pro bono legal assistance program for cancer patients involving lawyers from Baker & McKenzie has received an Australian Council on Healthcare Standards award.
Priceless Justice (The Age, 19 February 2008)
Pro Bono lawyers discuss how community groups that take on corporations and governments are often at a disadvantage in court.
Court puts kybosh on telltale site (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 February 2008)
Six San Francisco-based pro bono lawyers help whistleblower website. (Also covered in Brisbane Times)
Law firm backs stolen claims in WA (20 February 2008)
Lavan Legal will pursue claims by Stolen Generations on pro bono basis. (Also covered by The Australian, The Hobart Mercury, ABC Radio Australia, National Indigenous Times and others)
Pro bono may be key to Canberra (The Australian, 22 February 2008)
The federal government is considering whether to force law firms to do pro bono work as the price of gaining access to the $388 million market for government legal work.
Skull cap bashing claimed (The Age, 24 February 2008)
Arnold Bloch Leibler to represent pro bono a Jewish prisoner at Port Phillip Prison who claims he was bashed by prison guards in dispute over his wearing a skull cap.
Revolt over pro bono scheme (The Australian, 29 February 2008)
The legal profession in revolt over moves to force law firms to do pro bono work as price of gaining access to federal government legal work.
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9. Centre contact details
National Pro Bono Resource Centre
phone: +61 2 9385 7381
fax: +61 2 9385 7375
post: The Law Building, UNSW, Sydney NSW 2052