Many of the projects discussed during the consultation process demonstrated a high level of innovation amongst pro bono service providers in finding new ways to build capacity to address ever-increasing legal needs and demands for legal assistance.
Some of these projects tackle the issue that pro bono lawyers who are involved in clinics or secondment programs can lack expertise (or confidence in their expertise) in the relevant areas of law. Examples include ‘secondary consults’ or ‘phone a friend’ assistance. Secondment models have emerged where training in the relevant area of law is provided by the participating law firm and where a supporting knowledge network is developed within the firm (see case study at 22.5.3). Another approach taken by a legal referral organisation is to utilise seconded pro bono lawyers for triaging and merits assessment, which can additionally build the organisation’s capacity to address unmet legal need by creating new and broader referral pathways (see case study at 22.5.6).
Collaborative service delivery (CSD) is becoming more prevalent through models such as health justice partnerships (see Chapter 21 Outreach and case study on Bendigo Health Outreach — health justice partnership in a rural context at 19.5.3). CSD involves both the co-location and integration of legal services with other essential services, like health or welfare services, as a means of improving access to justice. It is a response to research findings that people with a complex combination of both legal and non-legal needs would be better assisted using a collaborative approach that takes both types of needs into account. ‘Older people with health issues, limited mobility and limited financial capacity are particularly disadvantaged. Older patients often present with a convergence of health and legal issues that require a collaborative approach.’1 Since 1 July 2015, CSD has been underpinned by the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services. Health Justice Australia was established through a grant from the Clayton Utz Foundation, with the assistance of Justice Connect, and commenced operation in 2016.
Pro bono resources are increasingly being applied proactively to prevent legal problems arising, using early intervention, advice and referral. One CLC manager used the phrase ‘proactive pro bono’, referring to strategy is to provide people with assistance ‘before people reach rock bottom.’ For example, one large law firm pro bono coordinator said that the duty solicitor assistance their firm provided at the Downing Centre was criticised for not targeting the greatest needs, as many of the clients were young people with traffic violations. However, they explained that young people with traffic violations might lose their job and spiral into worse legal problems if they are not assisted to keep their licence.
The concept of proactive pro bono could extend to providing advice early on where a matter has no prospects to avoid the ‘referral merry-go-round’.
Firms sometimes do not see the value in providing advice that there are no prospects. Often CLC and Legal Aid lawyers see clients who have been everywhere for assistance but can’t get off the referral merry-go-round because, although we know the matter has no prospects, our guidelines or the level of expertise required to be diligent in that advice prohibit us from giving that advice. Advice that there are no prospects often provides closure for a client and provides a greater benefit by getting the client out of the Legal aid/CLC system. QPILCH’s self-represented litigants scheme, for example, does a lot of merits assessment. Explaining to clients that their case has no merit is a valuable service. (PBRO manager)
Technology is increasingly being used to enhance access to justice, especially in regional, rural and remote areas, and for client groups that are more comfortable with online forms of communication than they are with traditional face to face meetings (see Chapter 26 Technology-based services). Online educational resources such as the LegalPod are also being developed to underpin collaborative service programs (see case study at 21.5.3).
For many pro bono providers, non-legal pro bono assistance — including financial assistance in the form of program funding or fellowships — complements the pro bono legal work they provide to CLCs or pro bono referral organisations (see Chapter 23 Fellowships). Offering a mix of legal services, non-legal services and financial support enables a firm the flexibility to help in a way that most benefits a legal assistance provider’s operations. Although non-legal forms of assistance such as working bees, premises and other professional services fall outside the definition of ‘pro bono’ for purposes such as the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target, they can contribute significantly to a firm’s social justice impact as well as providing opportunities for non-legal staff to participate (see case study at 30.1.2).
Finally, another growing area of pro bono legal work is in law reform and policy work. This type of work recognises that in certain areas of law, community organisations are uniquely placed to identify the systemic issues affecting disadvantaged people. There are increasing opportunities to engage in this type of work through projects such as the Law Reform Hub (see case study at 27.5.2).
1 Peter Noble, ‘On Capacity: Promoting structured pro bono by regional lawyers to provide legal education and casework within the health context’, paper presented at the National Rural/Regional Law and Justice Conference, 19-21 November 2010, p 1, http://lcclc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/On-Capacity-Conference-Paper-by-Peter-Noble-Loddon-Campaspe-Community-Legal-Centre.pdf. For another example of an integrated advocacy-health service see the Cancer Council Legal Referral Service at http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/31192/get-support/practical-support-services-get-support/legal-financial-support/pac/.