The Victorian Government’s Legal Services Panel requires Victorian government departments (and participating statutory agencies) to procure all legal services from the law firms appointed to the Panel. The panel consists of 28 law firms.
All panel firms must provide legal services on a pro bono basis to “Approved Causes” equivalent in value to a nominated percentage of the fees they generate under the panel arrangements (or make a payment in lieu). The nominated percentage must be at least 10% of the total annual fees paid to the firm under the Panel arrangements.
“Approved Clause” is defined as the provision of legal services (or other financial or in-kind assistance) which will “enhance access to justice for disadvantaged persons or organisations and/or promote the public interest” including circumstances where a panel firm:
(i) without fee or without expectation of a fee or at a reduced fee, advises and/or represents a client in cases where:
(A) a client has no other access to the courts and the legal system; and/or
(B) the client’s case raises a wider issue of public interest; or
(ii) undertakes the following, provided the provision of these services or financial or in kind assistance will enhance access to justice for disadvantaged persons or organisations and/or promote the public interest:
(A) is involved in free community legal education and/or law reform;
(B) is involved in the giving of free legal advice and/or representation to charitable and community organisations;
(C) provides staff (legal or other) on secondment to a CLC or other community organisation; or
(D) provides financial or in kind assistance (e.g. equipment, sponsorship etc) to a CLC or other community organisation.
Firms may face suspension from the Panel if they fail to meet their pro bono obligations.
The Victorian government originally introduced the Legal Services Panel on 1 July 2002. The Victorian Panel aimed to combine a more transparent system of allocating legal work to law firms, lower costs for the Victorian government, and an increased commitment to social policy objectives. The Victorian Panel was refreshed in July 2009 for a period of 6 years. The arrangement led to the formation of a general and specialist panel of law firms.
On 1 July 2015, then Attorney-General Martin Pakula announced the details of a new Victorian Government Legal Services Panel. Those Panel arrangements commenced on 1 March 2016. Under the 2016 Panel arrangements, Panel firms were required to make a minimum pro bono commitment of 10%, an increase from 5%.
In the Victorian Government’s Response to the Access to Justice Review released on 23 May 2017, the Government agreed that the requirements of the Victorian Government Legal Services Panel contract should be amended in the future “to place greater weight on contributions that deliver pro bono services in areas of unmet legal needs that assist community legal centres and their clients”. The Report and Recommendations from the Access to Justice Review are available in two parts: Volume 1 and Volume 2.
For more information
Further information on the Victorian Panel can be found here.
You can also find more discussion of pro bono provisions in government tender arrangements – including a comparison of the arrangements put in place by the Commonwealth, Victorian, New South Wales, South Australian, Western Australian and Queensland Governments – here.