This chapter focuses on what drives large law firms to become involved in pro bono partnerships and how to effectively partner with them. More information for lawyers from large law firms who are interested in developing their pro bono practice can be found at 2.1. I am in the early stages of developing a pro bono practice (or growing an existing practice).
- 10.1 Large Law Firms: At a Glance
- 10.2 What Will Help Community Organisations Attract Law Firm Partners?
10.1 LARGE LAW FIRMS: AT A GLANCE
|Law firm pro bono programs need community partners to assist them with:
What will help community organisations to attract law firm partners?
What attracts law firm staff to participate in pro bono work?
Lawyers looking to gain support for a pro bono program within the firm need also to communicate the business rationale for undertaking such a program. The commercial benefits to a firm can include:
- making the firm more attractive to high quality legal recruits who are increasingly seeking opportunities to participate in pro bono programs;
- greater retention of valued employees, which also reduces recruitment costs;
- developing lawyers’ professional skills and experience in a supervised environment;
- enhancing staff morale and loyalty; and
- providing unique opportunities to market the firm, enhance its corporate image and thereby generate new business.1
The inclusion of pro bono conditions by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments in their tender schemes for the purchase of legal services from the private profession has encouraged the growth of pro bono legal services in those jurisdictions.2
In recent years, despite the significant structural changes that have taken place in the law firm sector over the past few years, large Australian law firms have continued to increase the amount of pro bono legal assistance they provide.3 In the 2013-2014 financial year, 11,813 FTE lawyers employed by firms with more than 50 lawyers undertook more than 374,942 hours of pro bono legal work, or an average of 31.7 hours per lawyer per annum.4
We really need CLCs because they know much more about the clients and the needs that we want to assist with. We can’t do our pro bono work without them. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Our firm is always open to new relationships and encourages requests from community organisations for assistance. There is no harm in asking a firm if they are interested in assisting or being involved in a project. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
|Law firm pro bono programs need community partners to assist them with:
10.2 WHAT WILL HELP COMMUNITY ORGANISATIONS ATTRACT LAW FIRM PARTNERS?
This section primarily concerns community organisations that are seeking partnerships with firms to deliver pro bono legal services to their clients.
Immediate casework is more likely to be accepted if it has long term law reform goals beyond addressing the client’s immediate problem. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
It is often easier to sell a secondment within a firm if the secondment is linked to a specific project rather than general legal referral work, especially a law reform goal, for example a secondment aimed at producing a report on women and homelessness. (PBRO manager)
It is also important to promote the work in a way that will attract assistance, taking into account the interests and culture of the firm and its staff. One CLC coordinator suggested highlighting aspects of a project that link in with the firm’s areas of sows (such as women and children).
CLCs/[PBROs] need to learn to market themselves to be more attractive to firms, to understand how firms see themselves and market themselves and fit their referrals into that model/understanding, for example, PALS had a paw print logo and the acronym made it seem more to do with companion animals but the focus is on systemic cruelty. Now they only refer to it as Pro Bono Animal Law Service and the discussion is on the consumer law issues (eg free range eggs) rather than animal rights or welfare issues. (Pro Bono Referral Manager)
CLCs need to identify areas of their work that are sexy so they can promote legal clinics/projects that are attractive to firms. (CLC manager)
Social security law, for example, may not immediately seem like sexy work, but there are ways to make it more appealing to firms. It involves administrative law skills. Learning to run an appeal in the AAT provides lawyers with the skills to run a matter in the Federal Court. (CLC principal solicitor)
There is a lot of good will out there. We just need to learn how to harness it by marketing our work in a way that appeals to the interests of firms and barristers and expands the pool of people we have to draw on for help. (CLC principal solicitor)
Law firms are looking for CLCs that are staffed and supervised with talented lawyers, well run, and organised. This is because they want to ensure that, as much as possible, any firm resources that are invested in a partnership with a CLC are used to provide pro bono legal services to clients rather than on the administration of a pro bono project that is poorly managed. Also, the benefits to firms of increasing staff retention and skill development through their involvement in pro bono work can only be realised where the CLC is in a position to provide quality training and supervision to pro bono lawyers. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Well established CLCs/community organisations are easier to sell within the firm because they have a track record of delivering services to target client groups. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
When we offer training and support to the firms, they are generally interested in being involved and see the benefits to their junior lawyers of developing skills in litigation. (CLC manager)
It is frustrating when CLCs are not in a position to take advantage of opportunities to work with firms when they arise, due to lack of capacity, turnover or turmoil within the CLC. (CLC manager)
CLCs need to update their business practices so that lawyers from firms feel like they are working with equals rather than dinosaurs. Very simple tasks such as publications, websites, information distribution and record keeping can have a big impact on the image of a centre. (CLC manager)
CLCs need to appoint a contact point within the CLC to manage all referrals rather than having individual CLC lawyers contacting firms. (CLC manager)
|What will help community organisations to attract law firm partners?
CLCs are often frustrated with the time it takes a firm to make a decision about a matter (and it’s often a wait and then a no) and the inability to speak directly to the decision maker (ie the partner). They don’t understand the battle that pro bono coordinators often have in their firms to get the firm to take on the matter. They are sometimes the lone voice advocating for pro bono. They need to be provided with support and a researched referral so that they have all the information to argue the matter to the relevant partner. (PBRO manager)
Involving clients in the pro bono work of the firm further embeds the pro bono culture as it demonstrates how pro bono can be a touch point for other relationships. K&WM asked two of its clients, Telstra and ASIC, to join the project as it was a good fit for in-house lawyers. (Jane Farnsworth, King & Wood Mallesons)
To convince my firm’s board members that our pro bono should be done at a higher level, I needed to make the case for pro bono on their terms, which are business terms. This included pointing out that our corporate clients had growing in-house pro bono programs and that we needed to keep ahead of them. A culture of competition drives a lot of pro bono work within firms. (Mid-sized firm pro bono coordinator)
If we were involved in a project that involved work that should ideally sit with government/legal aid we would need to set very clear boundaries and time frames. For instance, you could undertake the pro bono work for a discrete time period with the aim of developing a body of work/submissions to be given to government capturing the statistics and data around the area of unmet need. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Some pro bono coordinators struggle to obtain approval from partners in the firm to take on matters/projects that they would like to do. Where pro bono is coordinated by a partner rather than a coordinator, the partner often has more power to decide they will take on cases. (PBRO manager)
|What will help a pro bono coordinator to ‘sell’ a project within a firm?
Overall my experience assisting at the CLC’s advice service was hugely rewarding, being an opportunity to represent my firm in a broader community context, a way of applying my professional skills to make a difference to an individual’s life (financially, practically and socially), a way of helping those with few alternative options, an opportunity as a lawyer to expand my legal and general knowledge, an opportunity as a lawyer to experience a less corporate culture, and an insight into the lives of people who need this kind of assistance. (Mid-sized law firm solicitor)
Pro bono hours do not count towards billable targets and are discounted by 25% in the timesheet system. It can be seen as one of the many non-billable demands on lawyers. We wouldn’t do it unless we personally believed in it. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Lawyers are more likely to put their hand up to do pro bono work if their supervising partner has been involved in pro bono work themselves. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
We need management comms about the benefits of pro bono work and encouraging lawyers to do it — what we are doing and why — as well as testimonials from lawyers who have done it. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Firms which say that there is no interest in pro bono work from their staff are not promoting it effectively. If lawyers really understood what the work involves, it is highly unlikely they would not be interested in it. (CLC coordinator)
I could feel myself getting restless and I wanted to dedicate some time to giving something back, but I didn’t want to have to leave the firm to do it. By doing a pro-bono secondment that I know is supported by my firm, I have been able to get the change of scenery I wanted, do worthwhile legal work, and know that at the end of it my old job will still be there. (Large law firm solicitor)
|What attracts law firm staff to participate in pro bono work?
1 E Lardent, Making the Business Case for Pro Bono (2000) p 1, http://www2.nycbar.org/mp3/DoingWellByDoingGood/pbi_businesscase.pdf.
2 For more information about government tender schemes, see Australian Pro Bono Centre, Pro Bono Requirements in Government Tender Arrangements for Legal Services, https://probonocentre.org.au/provide-pro-bono/government-tender-arrangements/.
3 National Pro Bono Resource Centre, Fourth National Law Firm Survey (Australian law firms with fifty or more lawyers) – Final Report (December 2014), p 25, https://probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/our-publications/survey/.
4 National Pro Bono Resource Centre, Fourth National Law Firm Survey (Australian law firms with fifty or more lawyers) – Final Report (December 2014) above n 3, pp 6, 13. https://probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/our-publications/survey/.
5 National Pro Bono Resource Centre, Fourth National Law Firm Survey (Australian law firms with fifty or more lawyers) – Final Report (December 2014) above n 3, p 38. https://probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/our-publications/survey/.
6 Among the firms that responded to the National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey of Australian firms with fifty or more lawyers, 93% reported having a pro bono coordinator, 32% performed the roll on a full-time basis. See National Pro Bono Resource Centre, Fourth National Law Firm Survey (Australian law firms with fifty or more lawyers) – Final Report (December 2014) above n 3, p 49. https://probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/our-publications/survey/.
7 Contact details for law firm pro bono coordinators are available to subscribers of the Centre’s National Law Firm Directory, https://probonocentre.org.au/legal-help/directory/.
8 National Pro Bono Resource Centre, Fourth National Law Firm Survey (Australian law firms with fifty or more lawyers) – Final Report (December 2014), above n 3, p 49. https://probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/our-publications/survey/.
9 See Australian Pro Bono Centre, Submission to the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation: Access to Justice Review (February 2016), p 7, https://probonocentre.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/APBC-Submission-to-Victorian-Access-to-Justice-Review-22022016.pdf.
10 Of the firms that responded to the Fourth National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey: Australian firms with fifty or more lawyers, 40% recognised pro bono work with full billable hour credit. See National Pro Bono Resource Centre, Fourth National Law Firm Survey (Australian law firms with fifty or more lawyers) – Final Report (December 2014) above n 3 p 58. https://probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/our-publications/survey/.
11 Among the firms that responded to the Australian Pro Bono Centre’s Fourth National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey: Australian firms with fifty or more lawyers, the highest number of respondents named ‘management and partner support’ as the most crucial factor in the success of their pro bono program. See National Pro Bono Resource Centre, Fourth National Law Firm Survey (Australian law firms with fifty or more lawyers) – Final Report (December 2014) above n 3 p 64. https://probonocentre.org.au/information-on-pro-bono/our-publications/survey/.