In Australia, prior to the launch of the National Pro Bono Target on 26 April 2007, recommendations for the implementation of a voluntary minimum target came from a number of sources:
1998 – the Law Society of NSW’s Access to Justice Task Force Report recommended establishing a voluntary “minimum pro bono commitment”.
1999 – the Law Institute of Victoria resolved to encourage its members to dedicate one hour per week to pro bono work.
2000 – the Pro Bono Working Group convened by the President of the Law Society of NSW recommended that the Law Society issue a voluntary pro bono target for all members.
2000 – the Australian Law Reform Commission Report No. 79, Managing Justice: A Review of the Federal Civil Justice System (2000), recommended that legal professional associations urge their members to undertake pro bono work each year.
2002 – the Chesterman Review of the New South Wales Solicitors and Barristers Rules, commissioned by the NSW Attorney-General, recommended that consideration be given to including an aspirational target of a prescribed number of pro bono hours within the Solicitor’s Professional Conduct and Practice Rules.
Despite the above recommendations, no Australian State, Territory or national legal professional association had or has implemented an aspirational target within its professional conduct rules.
Establishment of the Target
In April 2007, in consultation with a number of key leaders in the delivery of pro bono legal services in Australia, the Centre adopted and promulgated a set of principles for a voluntary and aspirational target of 35 hours of pro bono legal services per lawyer per year.
There were 23 Foundation Signatories to the Target; 13 firms and 10 individuals. For a full list of current signatories to the Target (137 as at 30 June 2017) see Target Signatories.
The tenth anniversary of the Target in 2017 provided an opportunity to reflect, consult and review the Target to ensure that it remains relevant as a benchmark of performance and a catalyst for further growth in legal pro bono.
Between July 2017 and June 2018 the Centre conducted a review and consultation process with members of the Target signatory community.
The “National Pro Bono Aspirational Target” has been retitled to “National Pro Bono Target”.
The target will remain at 35 hours of pro bono legal work per lawyer per annum.
The Target’s definition of ‘pro bono legal services’ now allows work undertaken for social enterprises to count towards total target hours, reflecting growth in this area of pro bono legal practice.
The Centre has issued new guidance notes to help firms assess whether legal work for a charity, other not-for-profit organisation or social enterprise should be undertaken on a pro bono basis.
The meaning of legal work undertaken for a ‘substantially reduced fee’ has been clarified through guidance notes, with firms that undertake this ‘low bono’ work being required to report it separately from work undertaken for no fee.
The metric for measuring pro bono legal work for the purposes of the Target will remain as hours per lawyer per annum, with the Centre undertaking further work about how best to evaluate and communicate the impact of this work.
The Centre is adopting administrative changes in the way it works with some signatories on a case-by-case basis to provide more active support to signatories that are not reaching the target and to help them build a framework for reaching the target within a set timeframe.
The Centre will continue to advocate and work with governments to assist them to integrate the Target into their legal services tender arrangements and therefore encourage further pro bono growth.
The National Pro Bono Target at Ten Years report can be found here.
For more information, including a list of other reports issued by the Centre in connection with the tenth anniversary review, see National Pro Bono Target.
This initiative was supported and endorsed at its inception by:
Australian Lawyers Alliance
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
National Association of Community Legal Centres
Office of the Chief Magistrate, Law Courts of the ACT
Office of the Chief Judge, Land and Environment Court of NSW
The Law Society of Western Australia
The Law Council of Australia has indicated that consistent with the voluntary and aspirational nature of the Target, individual barristers and solicitors should make their own decision as to whether they wish to be a signatory to the principles.
Overseas aspirational pro bono target initiatives
The American Bar Association Models Rules of Professional Conduct have includes a voluntary pro bono goal of at least 50 hours of pro bono work per lawyer per year. This was introduced in 1993. For links to this and other American initiatives, see below.
In November 2014, 18 firms with offices in the UK agreed to participate in a new Collaborative Plan. One key component of the Plan is a 25 hours per fee-earner aspirational target. Please see our story “Law firms agree to collaborate around a new UK pro bono aspirational target” from the November 2014 edition of Australian Pro Bono News (formerly “National Pro Bono News”) for further details.