- 3.1 Relationships are the key to success
- 3.2 Relationships between law firms and community lawyers
- 3.3 Strong relationships lead to ongoing support
3.1 RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE KEY TO SUCCESS
Relationships are the key to a successful pro bono project. No model or structure can get around a poor relationship. (CLC coordinator)
The most important factor in determining whether a project is going to work well is the strength of the relationships between the parties involved in the pro bono model. Both sides need to work at building and maintaining a relationship of trust, and not take the other partner for granted. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Many of those consulted expressed the view that the health of the relationship between the partners to a pro bono project or program was the most important factor affecting the success of the pro bono work, no matter what model is used for the delivery of the pro bono assistance. It was acknowledged that a good relationship can open the floodgates for assistance, increasing both the quantity and speed of the assistance obtained from pro bono providers.
Assistance can be obtained much more quickly when a pro bono relationship is well established. (CLC principal solicitor)
Direct relationships with firms provide for faster case referral than using a clearing house. (CLC coordinator)
Strong relationships don’t happen overnight — they are built over time, and emerge as the parties work together on particular matters or projects:
You don’t embark on a relationship or a partnership or a collaboration. You embark on a piece of work together. So the organisation, the CLC, the NFP organisation has a need, they approach a pro bono practice directly or through a third party, a clearing house or similar, and they need something done. And if that goes well, there might be the opportunity to do the next thing, and then the next thing and gradually there’ll be the next thing and the next thing. And you turn around a year later and you say ‘oh we have a partnership with ….’ (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
3.2 RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN LAW FIRMS AND COMMUNITY LAWYERS
‘Trust’ and ‘respect’ were mentioned over and over again, particularly by those consulted from CLCs and referral schemes and organisations, as the necessary ingredients of an effective working relationship. CLC lawyers explained that their centres valued relationships with firms that were equal partnerships, and were keen to avoid situations where ‘pro bono assistance was treated by firms as a gift to the CLC’. In the context of firms being attracted to the idea of doing more pro bono work via online technology like Skype or podcasts to community organisations, one pro bono referral organisation manager said ‘their perception is very much of the lawyer imparting information, rather than relationships where there is understanding and contributions on both sides’.
Some CLCs talked about strong relationships of trust they had established with firms. For example, Caxton Legal Centre noted that its requests for assistance to the Brisbane office of Clayton Utz had rarely been refused over the past few years and that Clayton Utz will take cases from Caxton on an urgent basis. ‘When it assists Caxton directly, it treats Caxton like a valued client even though it is not paying’. Some CLC managers thought that CLCs needed to be more open to relationships with pro bono providers rather than being over-protective of their territory and pointed to the benefits of doing so.
Some CLCs can be over-protective of their territory, seeing themselves as the only carriers of social justice. Working towards positive relationships can yield real benefits for clients. (CLC coordinator)
Ensure that firms have a good experience with the CLC so they feel good about helping. (CLC manager)
Several CLCs and referral schemes and organisations noted that firms did not always recognise or respect the skills that lawyers from the legal assistance sector had developed from working directly with people experiencing profound disadvantage. However, it was observed by one CLC coordinator that pro bono coordinators and lawyers who also volunteer at a CLC have a much better understanding of the work and clients of CLCs.
Corporate firms are not always fully aware of the additional skills that CLC/Legal Aid lawyers have developed when dealing with clients who are seriously distressed, traumatised, mentally ill, and experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage, and that these are skills that are required when working with these clients. Often it is only after you have dealt with a client who is distressed and threatening to harm themselves that you realise you are entirely unprepared for that side of it. (PBRO manager)
Some law firm pro bono coordinators recognised that there were ‘barriers to overcome between pro bono providers and CLCs’ and suggested that firms also needed to take responsibility for relationship building by showing respect.
It is helpful to relationship building if firms have some humility and listen to those who work with disadvantaged people every day about where firms can make useful contributions. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
At an early stage in the pro bono relationship, open communication about the motivations and interests in being involved can facilitate the development of a project that works for everyone, and can prevent problems arising from one partner asking the other to do something they do not want to do.
Both parties to a partnership need to be open and clear about what their interests are — is the firm doing it to improve staff retention, to be involved in law reform, to the keep up with the other firms’ pro bono numbers? (CLC solicitor)
It is positive when firms are interested in capacity building for the CLC as well as high profile cases that will raise the firm’s profile. Relationships are built between CLCs and firms by undertaking day to day work together. (CLC coordinator)
3.3 STRONG RELATIONSHIPS LEAD TO ONGOING SUPPORT
The personal relationships that can be cultivated between individuals who share a similar commitment to social justice and access to justice can really drive the development of pro bono projects, especially when they are individuals in a position to influence their organisation. It is very important to develop these personal relationships and allies. The Chief Executive Director at the Arts Law Centre of Australia, Robyn Ayres, explained that the Centre tries to develop relationships/alliances with partners at firms involved in the area of practice relevant to a pro bono matter, in addition to dealing with the firm’s pro bono coordinator.
Strong, effective working relationships are not only likely to lead to the decision to provide support in the first place, but are also likely to lead to the provision of ongoing additional support. Throughout the consultations, many examples of partnerships emerged that started with a particular matter or project but ended up in a close and sometimes long-term relationship that provided support beyond what was originally asked for or expected.
For example, the Arts Law Centre of Australia’s relationships with several different firms started with the firms providing lawyers to staff Arts Law’s Document Review Service (see case study at 19.5.2), but has developed into long-term relationships of support. DLA piper’s relationship with Arts Law then broadened to ‘Artists in the Black’, a program where lawyers travel to remote communities for a week to advise Indigenous communities or wills and related legal issues, and work on advocacy issues affecting Indigenous artists.
Celebrating partnerships with awards is a good way of recognising the work that pro bono lawyers do, but can also help to motivate the provision of more assistance. (CLC manager)
Relationships that facilitate support on an ongoing basis can be particularly important in areas where it is more difficult to obtain assistance, for example, in rural, regional and remote communities where the geographical distance makes it difficult to form relationships in the first place.
Our experience is that obtaining pro bono assistance in regional areas relies on being able to form and rely on relationships between lawyers… Our experience is that it is better to be partnered with a law firm’s pro bono coordinator directly. (CLC coordinator)
Geraldton Resource Centre (GRC) and Clayton Utz, for example, developed a close working relationship over more than five years which led to an increasing amount and variety of assistance. The firm has assisted the CLC with employment and industrial law issues and runs training in Perth to coincide with State conferences when people from remote regions are there. The firm has also provided a temporary solicitor to act as principal when the GRC principal is on leave for 3–4 weeks. Given GRC’s longstanding close relationship with the firm, it has been able to facilitate the provision of pro bono assistance for other community organisations in the Geraldton area. (See also case study on Indigenous wills support at 23.2.1).
This book aims to provide an understanding of how to make the most of each model of delivering pro bono legal assistance, and its real value is in providing tips on how to encourage positive relationships between potential and existing pro bono partners, as these are the key to making the pro bono models work.
If relationships are key to the success of pro bono projects then it is vitally important to understand the perspectives of different stakeholders who are the potential partners in a pro bono relationship. Part 3 Understanding your potential partner provides information about each stakeholder, answering questions like: What drives them to become involved? What resources and skills do they have to contribute? What is their culture? How do they work? What are their limitations and barriers to providing assistance? What are they looking for in a pro bono partner? See also Chapter 8 Tips on planning and maintaining relationships.