The WA Pro Bono Legal Services Model applies to all law firms providing legal services to Western Australian government departments and agencies from 1 July 2020. The WA Pro Bono Service Model will be evaluated within 30 months of commencement (i.e. December 2022) to ascertain its effectiveness in increasing access to justice for individuals.
The Model seeks to build strong pro bono practices within those law firms, and contains the following elements:
provide pro bono legal services for “approved causes” to the value of at least 10% of each firm’s WA Government legal work.
Managing conflicts of interest.
Coordination of referrals.
Commitment and Definition
National Pro Bono Target
Law firms who provide legal services to the WA Government must be a signatory to the Centre’s National Pro Bono Target . The Target is aspirational, and signatories to the Target agree to use their best efforts to provide at least 35 hours of “pro bono legal services” per lawyer per year.
The WA Pro Bono Legal Services Model adopts the Centre’s definition of “pro bono legal services”, which you can view here.
Law firms who provide legal services to the WA Government are required to commit to undertake pro bono work for “approved causes” in Western Australia, to the value of at least 10% of the value of each firm’s Government legal work.
For example, if in a financial year a law firm bills Government Departments and agencies a total of $200,000 in legal fees, that firm must have also undertaken at least $20,000 in pro bono work for “approved causes” in Western Australia during that financial year.
Approved causes are defined to mean the provision of pro bono legal services:
to people in Western Australia who cannot obtain Legal Aid or otherwise access the legal system without incurring significant financial or other hardship;
which will enhance access to justice for disadvantaged people in Western Australia;
to Law Access, a community legal centre in Western Australia, the Aboriginal Legal Services of Western Australia, and to bodies in Western Australia whose primary focus is representation of Aboriginal people; or
by way of secondment of legal staff to Law Access, a community legal centre in Western Australia, the Aboriginal Legal Services of Western Australia, or bodies in Western Australia whose primary focus is representation of Aboriginal people.
Law firms are required to report the following within 12 weeks of the completion of the financial year:
Confirmation that the firm is a signatory to the National Pro Bono Target.
The total amount of legal fees charged by the firm to the WA Government during the completed financial year.
The total hours of pro bono legal services (on “approved causes” and under the Australian Pro Bono Centre’s National Pro Bono Target).
The total dollar amount of pro bono legal services provided by the firm for “approved causes”.
The total hours of pro bono legal services provided by the firm for “approved causes”.
Whether the total dollar amount of pro bono legal services on “approved causes” is at least 10% of the total amount of legal fees charged by the firm to the WA Government.
The number of full-time equivalent lawyers at the firm (excluding paralegals).
Total hours of pro bono legal services on “approved causes” per lawyer.
Total internal pro bono legal services hours per lawyer target (if any).
A brief overview of pro bono activities.
Law firms are not required to disclose the names of their pro bono clients in the reporting. Reports using disaggregated data will be tabled in Parliament by the Attorney General annually and published by the State Solicitor’s Office.
Initial contract period
The WA Government has advised that it expects that all firms will achieve the 10% target within 36 months of the commencement of the Model.
Firms are expected to use their best efforts to have reached the 10% figure in each of the first two financial years under the Model, but they will not be required to reach the 10% figure until the third financial year of implementation of the Model.
Managing conflicts of interest
A Pro Bono Coordinator will be located at the State Solicitor’s Office to manage conflicts of interests that may arise for firms undertaking pro bono work where the State is the counter-party. In addition, the WA Government has advised that it will release guidelines that will make it clear that:
law firms are able to provide pro bono services against the State and its agencies in pro bono matters as long as it does not give rise to a legal conflict of interest; and
departments and agencies cannot adversely discriminate against firms that act, or may act, against the State in pro bono matters.
Coordination of referrals
On 24 June 2020, the Western Australian Government announced the allocation of $165,000 a year over three years to fund Law Access to match referrals from community legal centres to law firms who provide legal services to government agencies. The model will prioritise vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
The WA Pro Bono Services Model will be evaluated within 30 months of commencement to ascertain its effectiveness in increasing access to justice for individuals.
For more information
Further information on the Western Australian Pro Bono Services Model 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.