Q. Why did the Centre establish the National Pro Bono Target (the Target)?
A. The Centre established the Target because it believes the Target 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).
Q. Why is the Target set at a minimum of 35 hours per year?
A. 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.
Q. Is there a danger that lawyers will do 35 hours a year and no more?
A. No. The Target simply reflects the amount of pro bono work that many lawyers in Australia are already doing. The Target is aspirational only and we are not advocating a mandatory pro bono. No adverse consequence flows from not meeting the Target.
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.
Q. Why have a formalised target if lawyers are already committed to doing pro bono legal work?
A. Having a target 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.
Q. Won’t the Target become a mandatory minimum for the profession?
A. 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.
Q. Does the Target encourage governments to reduce funding Legal Aid and Community Legal Centres?
A. No. The Statements of Principles for the Target clearly recognises “that pro bono is not a substitute for the proper funding by government of Legal Aid agencies and Community Legal Centres” and 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”.
Q. Who has signed up to the Target?
A. As of December 2020, there were over 200 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.
What legal work can be counted towards the Target?
Q. Can firms average their commitment across all the lawyers in the firm?
A. Yes. Even the work done by law graduates counts towards the Target.
Q. Can the work of paralegals and other support staff be included?
A. 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 calculating total pro bono hours or pro bono hours per lawyer per year for the purposes of reporting.
Q. Won’t firms use their junior lawyers and secondees as an easy way to reach the total number of hours required?
A. 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 states that when a lawyer provides pro bono legal services, he or she owes 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.
Q. 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”?
A. While the Centre encourages lawyers to contribute 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.
This definition was developed by the Centre in 2006 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 removes barriers to justice.
Q. Where can I find out more information about what can be counted?
Q. How does the Centre determine whether signatories have met the Target?
A. Each year signatories are asked to self-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. The Centre can provide guidance about measurement but does not want to create a detailed set of guidelines.
Q. What happens if a signatory does not meet the Target?
A. 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. Neither law firms, nor individual lawyers are or will be named in the Report. The Centre does encourage signatories to seek the assistance of the Centre to develop plans to help them meet and exceed the Target.
For examples of previous years’ annual reports on performance against the Target please refer to National Pro Bono Target.
Q. If you do not think you are going to meet the Target, is there any point in signing up?
A. Yes. Demonstrating that you (or your firm) aspires to meet the Target by signing up to it, even if you don’t immediately achieve the 35 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.
Q. Does my firm have to sign up to the Target if we are listed on the Whole of Australian Government Legal Services Panel?
A. 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.
Q. Where can I find assistance to help me or my firm to meet the Target?
A. The Centre provides a free consultancy service on how to structure and manage a pro bono program and is aware of many current opportunities that exist to undertake pro bono legal work in each state and territory of Australia. Please contact the Centre for more information.