Pro Bono Requirements in Government Tender Arrangements for Legal Services
For law firms to secure legal work from Australian Commonwealth and state/territory government departments, they must first tender or apply to be included on the department’s “panel” or “list” of pre-approved law firms. To qualify to be included on the “panel” or “list”, these firms must meet certain requirements.
The Commonwealth, Victorian, New South Wales, South Australian, Western Australian and Queensland Governments include pro bono requirements in their tender arrangements for legal services. While the arrangements between jurisdictions differ from each other in various ways, they have been successful in increasing the pro bono contribution made by participating law firms.
For example, in 2005-2006 the Victorian Government Legal Services Panel (Victorian Panel) arrangements resulted in pro bono legal services with a value of $5.2 million being performed. The Victorian Panel’s contribution has increased over time:
to approximately $7.7 million in 2006-2007
to $22.08 million in 2010-2011
reaching $25 million in 2016-2017.
Firms on the current Victorian Panel have committed to deliver a record average of 20% of professional costs earned from the Panel arrangements to pro bono work in the community. In the 2016-2017 financial year, the actual amount of pro bono work provided by Panel firms exceeded this commitment, reaching 29% of total legal fees.
Many Commonwealth legal services providers have also maintained a strong and stable commitment to pro bono work since the introduction of ‘pro bono conditions’ under the former Commonwealth Legal Services Multi-Use List. In August 2019, this was replaced by the Whole of Australian Government Legal Services Panel. The Centre, the pro bono community and the Commonwealth government were able to work together to maintain law firm commitment to pro bono under the updated Commonwealth Panel arrangements.
The below is an at-a-glance table of the current arrangements entered into by the Commonwealth and the state governments: