This chapter focuses on what drives individual lawyers to volunteer and how to encourage their involvement. More information for individuals who are interested in doing pro bono work can be found at 2.6 ‘I am an individual lawyer or barrister looking for opportunities to get involved’.
Individual volunteers make a personal choice to contribute their skills and experience to undertake pro bono work on their own time, without any payment, for example, by volunteering at a CLC. Their work increases the capacity of CLCs to provide direct legal service delivery, community legal education and law reform advocacy. Of the CLCs that responded to the National Association of Community Legal Centres survey published in August 2014, 80.6% utilised volunteers working in direct legal service delivery.1
Volunteers play a critical role in community life and contribute significantly to social and economic wellbeing. Volunteering not only encourages connections to local, national and international communities, it improves personal growth.2
The factors that drive individual volunteers to undertake pro bono work are similar to those of lawyers doing pro bono work under the auspices of their law firm, including the opportunity to use their skills to make a difference, further develop their skills and do interesting work.
I enjoyed having exposure to clients and the feeling of making a real difference to people’s lives with the advice (however limited) that I could provide. It was nice to hear people’s stories (albeit long at times) and get feedback that we had done a good job. (Volunteer solicitor)
Lawyers who volunteer at CLCs do so because they want to give back and feel good about helping, but it also expands your horizons to be exposed to new areas of law. By volunteering at a CLC you can learn about everyday areas of law that you wouldn’t usually deal with, like car accidents and neighbourhood disputes, and help yourself or a friend. (Volunteer solicitor)
However, a distinction can be made between lawyers who are paid by a firm for the time they contribute to pro bono work, and individual volunteers who are completely unpaid and contribute on their own time.3 While both are motivated by a belief in social justice, volunteers are less motivated by the ‘business case’ for pro bono which can be a motivating factor for law firms.
Taking these different motivations into account can affect a community organisation’s use of pro bono resources for its staffing. For example, Monica Taylor (Director, Pro Bono Centre, University of Queensland), who previously set up a telephone advice service at Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (QAI), explained that QAI felt comfortable engaging individual volunteers on the basis that it had limited funding and the service may not continue in the long term, but did not feel comfortable partnering with a firm on this basis because a firm wants more from the partnership than just to provide individuals with assistance.
There are pros and cons to staffing clinics/telephone advice services etc. by partnering with law firms as opposed to making a general call out for volunteers. Partnering with a firm moves the administrative burden of rostering to the firm. It can be a very onerous task for the host organisation to find lawyers to fill every shift. However, lawyers that independently volunteer to assist in their own time might do so because they are passionate about social justice and would not be identified if only relying on a firm to provide lawyers. (Monica Taylor)
We have law students who volunteer, and we feel no compunction about giving them administrative and filing work when we have nothing more exciting for them to do, because they are there as volunteers. But we feel an obligation to not give this kind of administrative work to secondees (even though lawyers often do it themselves), because they are there in a professional capacity. Sometimes this creates an odd situation where we are giving the exciting work, eg legal research or writing submissions to secondees, while we catch up on data entry and filing. (CLC Project Officer)
Senior caseworker at the Welfare Rights Centre in Sydney, Danny Shaw explained that the Centre attracts lawyers to volunteer by promoting the benefits of working in a community legal centre.
Volunteer lawyers get the opportunity to undertake legal research, have direct client communication and take instructions from clients. We have a structured volunteer program that provides volunteers with training, mentoring and supervision. We include them as part of the team and they have a dedicated role at the Centre. It also helps to have a volunteer coordinator who is friendly and interested in volunteers and can help them see how their role fits into the overall scheme of things. (Danny Shaw)
Fiona Robson (Supervising Counsel for Telstra Ventures and Telstra Software Group) who has volunteered at Kingsford Legal Centre providing advice during their night advice session suggested that CLCs who are looking for volunteers might want to consider explaining more about what the commitment involves to their target audience, who may be corporate lawyers.
Many large companies, like Telstra, have initiated pro bono programs and this gives CLCs an opportunity to present to those companies pro bono coordinators or legal teams about the benefits of volunteering. Corporate lawyers are busy people who perhaps don’t always have enough time to proactively investigate pro bono opportunities. However, if someone can come along and explain to them how easy it can be to make a small but important pro bono contribution by volunteering regularly at a CLC, I am sure that more people would sign up. (Fiona Robson)
Many CLCs provide practical assistance to their volunteers, for example, by covering the public transport costs of volunteers, to make it easier for them to participate, recognising the value of the contribution they make and the fact that they are doing it for free. Fiona Robson said that one of the things that really helped support her KLC commitment was that Telstra was happy to pay for her taxi home after the advice session each fortnight.
Community legal centres looking for volunteers can advertise opportunities on the website, Community Legal Centres Volunteers (http://www.clcvolunteers.net.au/), which is a national database of CLCs with information about current volunteering opportunities. Individuals interested in volunteering can find out more about volunteering at CLCs or search the database for ‘CLCs seeking volunteers’.
Australian Pro Bono Centre, Australian Pro Bono Manual (3rd edition), LexisNexis, Sydney, 2016, Chapter 1.6 Identifying needs and sources of pro bono legal work.
National Association of Community Legal Centres, Working Collaboratively: Community Legal Centres and Volunteers (2014), p 16, http://www.naclc.org.au/resources/NACLC_VOUNTEER2014_WEB.pdf.
1 National Association of Community Legal Centres, Working Collaboratively: Community Legal Centres and Volunteers (2014), p 16, http://www.naclc.org.au/resources/NACLC_VOUNTEER2014_WEB.pdf.
2 Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP, ‘Pro Bono – An Ethical Obligation or a sign of Market Failure?’ (speech delivered to the Victorian Bar Third Annual CPD Conference in Melbourne on 16 March 2013, in his role as Attorney-General of Australia).
3 National Association of Community Legal Centres, above n 1.http://www.naclc.org.au/resources/NACLC_VOLUNTEERS_web.pdf.