Welcome to the October 2008 edition of the e-Newsletter of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre (the Centre). We welcome your feedback/contributions/ideas. In this edition, read about:
Commonwealth agencies must consider pro bono when hiring law firms
On 18 September 2008 the Commonwealth Government amended the Legal Services Directions to require each Commonwealth agency, when procuring ongoing legal services, to take into account the amount and type of pro bono work the law firm has carried out or will carry out, and whether the firm is a signatory to the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target.
Full details of the scheme can be found on the “What’s New” pages of the Office of Legal Services Coordination
Attorney-General’s first pro bono roundtable meeting
On 26 September 2008, the Commonwealth Attorney-General, Robert McClelland held a roundtable discussion in Sydney with pro bono coordinators of large and mid-tier firms, the public interest law clearing houses from Victoria, Queensland and NSW and others including representatives from Australian Government Solicitor, Law Council of Australia and the NSW Bar.
In what was a productive exchange, topics discussed included the state of play of pro bono in Australia, what we can learn from the overseas experience, public/private partnerships, partnerships with Community Legal Centres (‘CLCs’), pro bono legal assistance for Indigenous Australians, exploring ways of promoting pro bono legal assistance in the Asia-Pacific region and how best to recognise the pro bono contributions of the profession.
Commonwealth Attorney-General, Rob Mclelland.
The Attorney acknowledged the pro bono work of the firms and welcomed the opportunity to learn more about their pro bono practices and possible ways that government may assist their efforts.
One key issue raised by firms in the context of working with CLCs and Indigenous Legal Services was the lack of resources and skills available in these organizations to be able to actively develop and maintain partnerships with law firms highlighting the need for ongoing reinvigoration of the CLC and ATSIL sectors. The suggestion was made that salaries in these sectors should be commensurate with legal aid salaries.
Other issues and ideas that arose included the significant variations in pro bono contributions between firms, the need for ‘easy access’ disbursement assistance funds to facilitate pro bono legal work, the need for law reform on the issue of adverse costs orders in public interest matters, clarification of a right to a favourable costs order when acting pro bono, the need for a point of focus for coordination of pro bono legal activities in each State and Territory and the opportunity to get more law students involved.
This is the first time such a meeting has occurred and arose from a suggestion made to the Attorney by the Centre earlier this year. It will hopefully occur again at an opportune time.
Non-legal professionals keen to get involved
On 25 September 2008 the Centre chaired the Professional Pro Bono Roundtable Discussion kindly hosted by Minter Ellison. The roundtable was convened to find out about organisations and networks that facilitate pro bono by non-legal professionals and to discuss whether there is a need for greater information exchange, cooperation and coordination between professionals.
The roundtable was attended by representatives from peak professional associations for the medical, accounting and financial planning industries, law firms, as well as public interest organisations such as the St James Ethics Centre and Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
The roundtable sparked lively discussion with insightful and productive input from all involved. The roundtable confirmed that although many non-legal professions undertake pro bono work across Australia and internationally, services are typically provided in an unstructured and ad hoc manner. This was attributed to the lack of motivators to provide pro bono services, such as the absence of a sense of professional obligation to undertake pro bono work. The roundtable also identified a wide variation in the capacity of non-legal professionals to undertake pro bono with shortages in financial planning and medicine.
Despite these challenges, there was unanimous support for greater coordination and information exchange across professionals to facilitate a more holistic approach to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized individuals. The peak professional associations expressed a desire to consult with their members about key drivers for undertaking pro bono work, and educate their members about pro bono opportunities and the advantages of a coordinated approach.
The Centre has consulted with peak professional associations to establish a list of pro bono contacts within those organisations with a view to compiling a list of professionals willing to undertake pro bono work across a variety of professions.
Expansion of Volunteer Grants Program could help Community Legal Centres (CLCs) and pro bono lawyers
CLCs may now be able to obtain fuel vouchers for volunteers and grants to purchase small equipment for volunteers under the expansion of the Commonwealth Government’s Volunteer Grants Programs.
For the very first time, eligible community organisations (such as CLCs) will be able to request funding to contribute towards the reimbursement of the fuel costs incurred by volunteers in their voluntary work, as well as grants of $1,000-$5,000 to purchase equipment used by volunteers, including computers. This initiative may help provide CLCs with much needed equipment for volunteers, and may also offer those pro bono lawyers who use their cars to assist people in need with some reprieve from rising petrol costs.
The Australian Government will provide an additional $15 million over three years under the Volunteer Grants Program, bringing the total funding under the program to almost $64 million over three years.
Further information on the Volunteer Grants Program can be found on the FACSIA website
12th National Conference on Volunteering
The 12th National Conference on Volunteering was held on the Gold Coast from 3-5 September 2008, hosted by Volunteering Australia. Speakers at the conference included some of Australia’s leading academics, politicians and business professionals engaged with the volunteer sector, such as CEO of World Vision Australia Rev Tim Costello, Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector Senator the Hon. Ursula Stephens, CEO of the Foundations for Young Australians Adam Smith, and CEO of the Centre for Social Impact Professor Peter Shergold AC. The conference attracted over 500 participants from around Australia, primarily from the community sector.
The conference program featured a wide selection of streams with topics ranging from key trends and challenges in volunteering to corporate volunteering programs, global perspectives and the challenges of student volunteerism. The conference sparked lively discussions on volunteering in Australia and the challenges of meeting the demand for community services as the Baby Boomer generation ages.
One of the most popular sessions was presented by Dimity Fifer from Australian Volunteers International on ‘Global connections, global perspectives’, which looked at the emergence of innovative partnerships between Australian and overseas organisations which offer mutual benefit. Macquarie University for example is now integrating volunteering in its curriculum to enable students to gain professional experience within organisations around the world, particularly in developing nations. This initiative signifies the growing demand by students for experiential learning programs with a focus on social justice and development across all faculties, not simply by law students. The session also highlighted that the pro bono opportunities have started to transcend national barriers, as it was announced that Lawyers Without Borders would be launched in Australia during Law Week in 2009.
In another interesting session, Jill Farrelly from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs examined key trends and challenges for volunteering. The session looked at how the volunteer sector can work in partnership with all levels of government, the business and the community to increase the number and diversity of volunteers and expand the range of services to the community. Of relevance to many pro bono lawyers was the discussion of the Commonwealth Government’s Volunteer Grants Program (see above).
Classic Pro Bono In South Australia
When it comes to knowing Bach from Brahms, the Adelaide Youth Orchestra can certainly pick a tune. Not so easy for the talented performers is dealing with the legal concerns that face an arts organisation without in-house counsel.
“This not-for-profit group, whose mandate is to support talented youth through performance, generates some interesting legal issues,” says Nicholas Linke, a partner with Fisher Jeffries.
Fisher Jeffries partner, Nicholas Linke
“They have just appointed a new general manager, and there are employment contracts and agreements for the GM, their conductor, and tutors. There are deductible gift recipient issues and intellectual property matters. When members were recently involved in an audio documentary, a waiver was needed so that photos and audio could be used,” says Linke.
Added to this is the fact that a lot of orchestra members are under age, so protections of their rights becomes more complicated. “Organisations can find these things quite complex when they don’t have the legal expertise.”
More than a year ago, the firm also began a relationship with the Welfare Rights Centre and its Homeless Persons Legal Clinic. In particular, the solicitors work with Catherine House, a shelter for homeless women.
Adelaide Youth Orchestra
“We do a clinic at Catherine House once a week and have a roster of 12 solicitors who visit on a regular basis. During the week, they will write letters on behalf of the women and prepare advice. The work is wide ranging though there is a lot of accommodation-related matters: issues with the Housing Trust, landlords, eviction, and getting goods back from an angry spouse or partner,” says Linke.
“There are also domestic violence, family law and criminal matters. We provide a conduit to other pro bono services.
“Debt is also an issue. Creditors are usually happy when someone gets in touch with them so they know the problem is being addressed. Most of these women are trying to get their lives back on track. When everything seems overwhelming, helping with one small matter, such as negotiating a $2,000 payment reschedule, can make things feel manageable,” says Linke.
“The women come from across the board. We expected that most would be young and from lower socio-economic backgrounds but there are grandmothers who would have come from quite well to do homes and now have nowhere else to go. It has been eye-opening for us. When you help someone out who is really disadvantaged and they thank you, that feedback is really rewarding. You don’t always get that from a corporate.
“For many years the firm has undertaken pro bono on an ad hoc basis and it has been up to the employees. Everyone has been keen to donate their time and more and more people have put their hands up. We are now putting in place formal guidelines,” says Linke.
He has also been on the steering committee which is trying to introduce a public interest law clearing house in South Australia which will, “plug a different sort of gap. I suspect that there is a lot of unmet need in the not-for-profits and among those who can’t afford lawyers and don’t qualify for legal aid. People fall through the gaps. That’s the next exciting thing happening in this state.”
N.B. The Centre assisted with consultations with members of SA Community Legal Centres and members of the SA legal profession in Adelaide in September and there is certainly momentum afoot to establish a pro bono clearing house in SA. For further information and/or support contact Paula Stirling or Kerry Clark of the SA organising committee.
Pro Bono Student extraordinaire
Figen Cingiloglu is a little busy at the moment. It’s her final semester of law at UWS. But as well as her studies, she’s doing some research into elder law, tutoring students in HSC legal studies, and discussing cultural issues for young Turkish-Australians in her regular SBS weekend radio program.
Oh, and she has a two-day a week job as the Project Manager for Pro Bono Students Australia (PBSA).
That’s Figen on the far left with other UWS law students at Blake Dawson earlier this year.
The project is based on a Canadian program, but on a smaller scale. While a lot of universities were interested in the Canadian model, UWS has been the first to take it on. It started as a pilot scheme but has since been so successful that the university has committed to maintaining the project.
As Figen puts it, there were four phases to establishing PBSA: recruitment of a project manager (herself); review of potential projects; contacting law firms; and recruitment of students – all of whom had to be interviewed, making for a lengthy process.
While almost all the students who have entered the program are from UWS, it is open to other universities and there are some external students taking part.
“There are 18 projects on at the moment with two students per project. That means that if one student can’t attend, then there is always the other one to cover, so the scheme works as effectively as possible,” says Figen.
The consummate and committed law student, it’s hard to believe that Figen originally planned to be an architect, finishing her first degree at the University of Sydney in computer science and technology with that profession in mind.
“I hadn’t thought of the law. I realise now that this is what I wanted to do all along. I should have done legal studies at high school.”
Pro Bono in the News – OCTOBER 2008
Changes a relief (The Australian, 19 Sept)
Would-be lawyers have a smorgasbord of options (The Australian, 19 Sept)
When carrot helps, no need for stick (The Australian, 19 Sept)
Sweeping changes to legal outsourcing unveiled (The Australian, 19 Sept)
Research finds depression very high in legal profession (The Australian, 19 Sept)
Letters page (Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Sept)
Legal services plan sets new benchmark (Psnews, 22 Sept)
Fine time for fed-up drivers (Penrith City Star, 22 Sept)
Kindest of them all: survey shows law firms generous (ALB, 23 Sept)
No charges for former premier (The Australian, 24 Sept)
It’s just a little too close for comfort (The Age, 26 Sept)
Solitary confinement will cost you extra (Crikey, 25 Sept)
Ex-Mallesons partner firmly holds on to Holding Redlich (ALB, 29 Sept)
Bloody good (The Age, 27 Sept)
Justice McColl speaks to young lawyers (Lawyers’ Weekly Online, 29 Sept)
Andrew Mallard cleared to sue state over wrongful conviction (Perth Now, 4 Oct)
Shaft of light for China’s coalminers (WA Today, 4 Oct)
Fascist America in 10 easy steps (perth.indeymedia.org, 3 Oct)
Top QLD women lawyers shine (Lawyers Weekly Online, 3 Oct)
Job Opportunity at PilchConnect
The Public Interest Law Clearing House in Victoria is seeking applications for the role of PilchConnect Lawyer. This person will play a vital role in delivering a range of high quality legal services to not-for-profit (NFP) community organisations and, in particular, will assist with the development and delivery of a new telephone advice service.
The ideal candidate will have substantial post admission experience in areas of law relevant to NFP organisations and excellent communication skills. Applications from those with direct experience advising small to medium size community organisations are especially encouraged. Enquiries to Penny Morrow on 9225 6672 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications are due on 21 October 2008.