Development of Pro Bono Targets: In Australia and Overseas
This page outlines the history and development of the National Pro Bono Target in Australia, and discusses similar pro bono targets overseas.
Before the introduction of the Target in Australia
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 (270 as at 30 June 2021), see Target Signatories.
For more information, please see National Pro Bono Target.
This initiative was supported and endorsed at its inception by:
- Australian Lawyers Alliance
- Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (now the Australian Human Rights Commission)
- National Association of Community Legal Centres (now Community Legal Centres Australia)
- 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.
Tenth Anniversary of the Target (2017)
The tenth anniversary of the Target in 2017 provided an opportunity to reflect, consult, and review the Target to ensure that it remained 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 key outcomes of The Target at Ten Years review were that from 1 July 2018:
The “National Pro Bono Aspirational Target” was retitled to “National Pro Bono Target”.
The Target remained 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 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’ was 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 remained 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 adopted 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 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.
The Target opens to in-house teams (2020)
On 1 July 2020, the National Pro Bono Target was opened to in-house legal teams across Australia. Now in-house legal teams and individual in-house lawyers can voluntarily sign up to a target of at least 20 hours of pro bono legal services per lawyer per year.
The 20-hour target reflects what many in-house lawyers are already doing and now provides in-house teams with an opportunity to be recognised for their pro bono efforts, whilst encouraging other in-house teams to do the same. Given the unique context for in-house legal professionals, the target is lower than the 35-hour target prescribed for law firms, solicitors, and barristers. However, the Centre, in consultation with the In-House Pro Bono Steering Committee, decided to take a staged approach and will review whether this hourly target should be raised to be aligned with other legal professionals in the future.
Overseas pro bono target initiatives
United States of America
The American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct include 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.
- American Bar Association model rule 6.1 – Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service
- The Corporate Pro Bono Challenge Initiative allows in-house legal departments to adopt the voluntary statement of commitment to pro bono service. The challenge enables legal departments to identify, benchmark, and communicate their support for pro bono.
- The American Lawyer compiles an annual A-List that measures the performance of Am Law 200 firms in four areas: revenue per lawyer, pro bono, associate satisfaction, and diversity
- Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas (from 1 January 2008)
In 2015, the state of New York introduced a pro bono requirement mandating that all applicants for admission by examination to the New York Bar must perform 50 hours of law-related pro bono service prior to filing their application. The 50 hours of pro bono service may be completed in any state or territory of the United States, or in any foreign country. The pro bono requirements for bar admission in the state of New York can be accessed here.
Law firms participating in the UK Collaborative Plan for Pro Bono work collaboratively to develop the systems and infrastructure to allow pro bono services to be effectively delivered to address unmet legal need.
One key component of the Plan is an aspirational target of 25 pro bono hours per fee-earner per year.
In 2003, the Cape Law Society (now known as the Legal Practice Council) instituted a mandatory pro bono rule for its members. Since then, each of South Africa’s regional law societies has required their members to perform pro bono services. Today, every practising lawyer in South Africa is required to provide 24 hours per year of pro bono services to the public. This target is mandatory and is administered by the Legal Practice Council and reviewed by the Law Society of South Africa.
A number of South Africa’s leading law firms have gone further and made significant efforts to develop and increase their pro bono activities, including the creation of Probono.org which seeks to match lawyers with individuals in need of legal services.
Last updated in 2022.