For all Target signatories
Reporting on and meeting the Target
What happens if a signatory does not meet the Target?
There are no adverse consequences for signatories which do not meet the Target. The Centre’s Annual Performance Report on the Target is prepared in a de-identified form. No law firm, organisation or individual lawyer is named in the report. However, the Centre does encourage signatories to seek the assistance of the Centre to develop plans to help them meet and exceed the Target.
For previous Annual Performance Reports of the National Pro Bono Target, please refer to National Pro Bono Target.
I only signed up to the Target in May/June– do I need to report to the Centre for the full financial year?
All Target signatories must report their hours, regardless of when they signed up to the Target during the financial year. However, if you are a new Target signatory (i.e., you signed up to the Target on or after 1 July, but on or before 30 June in the relevant financial year), you should only report on the pro bono hours undertaken since you became a signatory (not the whole financial year).
The Centre does not expect new signatories to meet the Target in their first year. In fact, it can take signatories several years to meet it.
I’m a signatory, but I didn’t do any pro bono work in the past financial year – do I still need to submit a report to the Centre?
Yes. Even if you have zero hours to report, please complete the reporting form. This is so we receive an accurate picture of how much pro bono work is being undertaken by all signatories across Australia. Also, we ask signatories to provide other useful information in the form that doesn’t relate to the total number of hours undertaken.
How does the Centre determine whether signatories have met the Target?
After the end of each financial year, signatories are asked to report the number of hours of pro bono legal work they have performed. A standard form is used to ensure the integrity of the measurement process.
How do I know if my work is ‘pro bono legal work’ and should be counted in the hours I report to the Centre?
The Centre encourages signatories to make their own assessment based on the definition of “pro bono legal services” and the Guidance Notes. If you are still unsure about whether your work meets the definition, please contact the Centre.
If I don’t think I’m going to meet the Target, is there any point signing up?
Yes. Demonstrating that you (or your firm/employer) aspire to meet the Target by signing up to it, even if you don’t immediately achieve the Target hours per lawyer, publicly indicates that you recognise the importance of pro bono legal work and share a commitment with other lawyers to do it.
Can firms average their commitment across all the lawyers in the firm?
Yes. Even the work done by law graduates counts towards the Target.
Can the work of paralegals and other support staff be included?
No. Signatories have the option of separately reporting paralegal hours where the work performed is of a legal nature and would otherwise be charged to the client if it were a commercial matter, but this should not be included when reporting total pro bono hours, which relates to the work of “lawyers” as defined.
Does my firm have to sign up to the Target if we are listed on the Commonwealth Whole of Australian Government Legal Services Panel or one of the States’ government legal services panels?
For more information, refer to our page on the Commonwealth Government Legal Services Panel, or see the website of the Attorney-General’s Department. The Commonwealth Panel Head Agreement requires all legal services providers to sign up to the Centre’s National Pro Bono Target, use their best endeavours to meet or exceed it, and maintain records and report on pro bono work at the end of the financial year.
For information about the NSW, Victorian, Queensland, Western Australian and South Australian panel arrangements, refer to our Comparison of Government Pro Bono Provisions.
Where can I find assistance to help me or my employer to meet the Target?
The Centre has developed a range of resources to help lawyers structure and manage a pro bono program, or get involved in pro bono in a personal capacity.
Please contact the Centre if you are seeking more information or advice.
Won’t firms use their junior lawyers and secondees as an easy way to reach the total number of hours required?
Firms shouldn’t change the way they approach the provision of pro bono legal services in order to meet the Target, especially given its aspirational nature and the fact that there are no adverse consequences if it is not met.
The Statements of Principles state that when a lawyer provides pro bono legal services, they owe the pro bono client the same professional and ethical obligations that are owed to any paying client and accordingly the lawyer must give that work the same priority, attention and care as would apply to paid work.
Why is general community service work and sitting on the board of a community legal centre (or other community organisation) excluded from the definition of “pro bono legal services”?
While the Centre encourages lawyers to contribute to their community by sitting on boards and by being involved in general community service work, these activities do not fall within the definition of “pro bono legal services” for the purposes of the Target unless they involve the provision of legal services.
This definition was developed by the Centre in 2006 (and reviewed in 2017-18) in consultation with a number of law firms with long-established pro bono practices. It carefully maintains a distinction between pro bono legal work and broader community service or corporate social responsibility work to ensure that the Target remains focused on encouraging the legal work that lawyers are uniquely qualified to undertake, and which removes barriers to justice.
Where can I find out more information about what can be counted towards the Target?
Please refer to the Guidance Notes.
About the Target
Why did the Centre establish the Target?
The Centre established the Target because we believe it helps to promote pro bono legal work throughout the Australian legal profession. This is demonstrated by the continual growth in the number of pro bono hours performed by Target signatories and the fact that Target signatories undertake more pro bono hours than non-signatories (see reports on the Target).
More information can be found at Development of the Target.
Why is the Target set at a minimum of 35 hours per year for most lawyers?
This number of hours was selected in consultation with lawyers from experienced pro bono practices as a realistic goal figure and appropriate benchmark (it equates to about 45 minutes per lawyer per week). It recognises and reflects the number of hours of pro bono legal services that, according to the Centre’s survey data, many Australian lawyers are already doing.
Why is the Target set at a minimum of 20 hours per year for in-house lawyers?
The Centre opened the Target on 1 July 2020 to in-house legal signatories who commit to use their best endeavours to achieve at least 20 hours of pro bono legal services per in-house lawyer per year. 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. The 20-hour benchmark reflects what many in-house lawyers are already doing and takes into consideration the unique context for in-house legal professionals.
Is there a danger that lawyers will meet the Target each year and do no more?
No. The Target simply reflects the amount of pro bono work that many lawyers in Australia aspire to do or are already doing. Many Target signatories exceed the Target each year.
In addition, most lawyers are motivated to undertake pro bono legal work by the satisfaction of helping someone who wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain legal assistance, not by meeting an annual hourly target.
Why have a formalised target if lawyers are already committed to doing pro bono legal work?
Having a benchmark raises the visibility of the ethical obligation of a legal professional to undertake pro bono work, both across the profession and the general public, and helps to provide access to justice to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain it. It also allows lawyers to demonstrate that it is a shared commitment and professional responsibility. Raising the Target’s visibility encourages the continuation and growth of pro bono legal services.
Won’t the Target become a mandatory minimum for the profession?
No. The Centre does not advocate the mandatory performance of pro bono legal work or the mandatory imposition of the Target. This would be inconsistent with its voluntary and aspirational nature. The Target is simply aimed at recognising and capturing the amount of pro bono work that many lawyers in Australia are already doing. There are no adverse consequences for signatories that do not meet the Target.
Does the Target encourage governments to reduce funding to Legal Aid and community legal centres?
No. The Statements of Principles for the Target clearly recognise “that pro bono is not a substitute for the proper funding by government of Legal Aid agencies and Community Legal Centres”. In addition, the definition of “pro bono legal services” that applies for the purposes of the Target is limited to the giving of legal assistance for free or at a substantially reduced fee to “people who cannot obtain Legal Aid”.
Who has signed up to the Target?
As of 23 June 2022, there were 283 signatories to the Target, including all 25 of the largest law firms in Australia. A full list of the law firms, incorporated legal practices, in-house legal teams, solicitors and barristers that have signed up to the Target can be found in Target Signatories.
Page last updated June 2022.