In the clinic model, pro bono practitioners help community legal organisations to provide legal assistance to their clients in areas of unmet legal need. This may involve the practitioners:
- developing partnerships with organisations that have access to a target client group (and possibly co-location and integration with other essential support services);
- equipping the organisation’s staff with knowledge and skills to provide legal advice or representation in areas of law in which their clients have unmet legal needs;
- undertaking training to develop the specialised knowledge and skills to assist the target clients;
- locating the service in a geographically and physically accessible, safe and trusted place;
- contributing resources to promoting or publicising the service to the relevant client group;
- committing to contributing resources for a significant period of time to ensure the establishment and effective operation of the service.
The clinic model overlaps with the secondment model in that clinics are often staffed by lawyers who are on a ‘sessional secondment’. Some of the case studies described in the Secondments chapter of this book as sessional secondments could also be considered case studies of clinics.1
Different ideas also exist about what is meant by an outreach clinic as opposed to a specialist clinic, and whether there is a significant difference. Some consider a clinic to be an ‘outreach clinic’ when it is focused on delivering services to a regional, rural or remote (RRR) area, while others consider that a clinic is an ‘outreach clinic’ when it is at any location (not necessarily RRR) which is away from the legal service provider’s office and aimed at making it more accessible to the target client group.
While several law firm pro bono coordinators expressed the view that there was no helpful distinction to be made between outreach and specialist clinics, those responsible for managing the logistics for those clinics thought that the difference had a significant impact on their planning process.
There is a significant difference between specialist and outreach clinics from the point of view of those organising those clinics. With outreach clinics there are the additional concerns for the organisers regarding the safety of staff, how to record advices and manage files offsite, how to move resources to the outreach site, timely conflict checks, the time involved and costs of travel. (PBRO manager)
For the purposes of this book, ‘specialist clinics’ are those providing legal assistance in a particular area of law, to address a particular area of need, or to target a particular disadvantaged client group, with a number of solicitors, firms and/or barristers providing pro bono legal assistance within, or in partnership with, an existing community organisation or CLC. Legal assistance resources are specifically developed to address those needs. An example of a specialist clinic is the Refugee Advice and Casework Service’s temporary protection visa clinic (see case study at 20.5.2).
‘Outreach clinics’, for the purposes of this book, are those involving lawyers providing legal advice, and sometimes ongoing assistance at outreach locations, usually at the premises of a community organisation and/or a CLC, but not necessarily in a RRR area. The legal assistance may be provided for the period of a particular project or a partnership arrangement on an ongoing basis.
Outreach clinics aim to address unmet legal need where there are barriers to the accessibility of legal services, by being located in a place that is safe and accessible to clients. Barriers may include lack of knowledge about the existence of the service, geographic inaccessibility or having no service available in the region, and lack of trust in the service or the legal system in general. Examples of outreach clinics include the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinics which are located in community organisations where people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness already go and trust to access other services. (See case studies at 21.5.1 and 21.5.2.)
This section on ‘Clinics’ deals with issues that are relevant to both specialist and outreach clinics. The next section on ‘Outreach’ deals specifically with the issues relating to outreach clinics only.
- 20.1 Clinics: at a glance
- 20.2 Clinics: benefits
- 20.3 Clinics: challenges/limitations
- 20.4 Features of effective clinics
- 20.5 Case studies
20.1 CLINICS: AT A GLANCE
Features of effective clinics
20.2 CLINICS: BENEFITS
Clinic work has authenticity. It is this day-to-day work at the coalface that is the essence of pro bono. The reality on the ground is that people need help and if firms don’t offer this assistance, nobody else will. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Clinics aim to increase access to justice for people who face particular barriers. They use the resources and skills of pro bono providers to increase the capacity of community organisations to provide legal assistance in a targeted area of need, in a place that is safe and trusted.
Clients are much more comfortable in an outreach clinic environment which is familiar to them, rather than the law firm environment which can be very daunting for someone not used to it. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Providing clients with a positive interaction with the justice system and lawyers contributes to increasing access to justice as they are more likely to seek assistance and assert their rights in the future. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
As with other models, it is also a benefit to pro bono providers to be involved in clinic work where the existence of unmet legal need and demand for services in the particular area or for the particular group has already been identified by a community partner organisation.
The clinic model can also lead to law reform and the identification of other related unmet legal needs as the participating lawyers are dealing with a large volume of clients from the same disadvantaged group. For example, the Partner for Pro Bono Services and Corporate Responsibility at Gilbert + Tobin (G+T), Michelle Hannon, explained that G+T lawyers involved in the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service clinic at Matthew Talbot Hostel take on a lot of casework and have developed expertise in the area of fines and tenancy issues, leading to law reform work in these areas. Similarly those lawyers who participate in the Asylum Seekers Centre Roster have expertise in refugee law which they use when representing individual clients and also to engage in broader advocacy and policy work.
A program to address infringement issues arose from seeing many homeless people at the clinic with the same problem, and is much more effective than having lawyers dealing with infringements on a case-by-case basis. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
A specific example provided by a large law firm pro bono coordinator involved assistance for clients who were being repeatedly fined for parking near their rooming houses because they were afraid to walk and could not obtain parking permits. ‘PILCH (now Justice Connect) had the resources to gather infringements data and lobby for changes to the infringement system, and submitted a letter to the Minister of Planning asking that the rooming house residents be allowed to obtain parking permits.’
Several pro bono coordinators expressed the view that clinics can increase the opportunities for law firm lawyers to do pro bono work because clinic work does not depend on the lawyer being in a practice area that lends itself to pro bono work.
With traditional referral work, lawyers are more likely to have opportunities to do pro bono work if their supervising partner is interested in pro bono work and delegating tasks related to pro bono work. The nature of some practice areas does not lead to many opportunities for pro bono work, eg mergers and acquisitions. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Clinics can be an attractive option for firms because they involve a less time-intensive commitment than other models such as secondments, and the responsibility for supervising the work of the lawyers participating in the clinics is often shifted from the firm to the clinic supervisor at the community organisation, PBRO or CLC.
The responsibility for the work of the lawyers involved in the clinic is shifted from the firm to the supervisor of the clinic, which means that more junior lawyers can be involved and they can see more clients. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Increasing the opportunities for lawyers, especially junior lawyers, to do pro bono work can help to develop and encourage a culture of pro bono within the firm.
It is a great way to engage young lawyers in doing pro bono work. Lawyers find it satisfying to do hands on legal work. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Clinic work can provide a motivational boost for the lawyers involved who have direct client contact and can see how their work yields positive outcomes for the clients they see at the clinic. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Building the skills of lawyers through clinic work can benefit the individual lawyer and their firm, and can also be used to address similar unmet legal needs in the future as clinics build a pool of practitioners with expertise in a particular area of need. For example, in her form role as Pro Bono Manager at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Heidi Roberts explained that by being involved in a clinic with Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders Corrs developed a pool of lawyers who have specialist knowledge about issues relating to prisoners and this allowed Corrs to assist in related areas, like refusal of prison visitors.
We have participated in a joint seniors rights clinic for a number of years. This has resulted in the building of knowledge in the area of elder abuse law. We now have a larger group of lawyers who attend training regularly on areas of importance to this practice and are beginning to engage in policy and systemic change through [Justice Connect] and other related working groups. The capacity building has greatly enhanced our ability to meet the needs of the clinic clients. There is a greater understanding within the firm of the issues being faced by the clients and a readiness to take on related referred matters. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
In addition to the skills and knowledge that lawyers acquire from doing clinic work in an area of law they may not usually practise in, they also develop important transferable legal skills (eg in communication and representation) and take the knowledge and skills they have gained back to their firms.
Clinic work develops the skills of the lawyers involved, especially junior lawyers, who become more mature and confident. They have to learn to listen to clients and identify issues in a manner that they do not often have the opportunity to do in a large firm environment. The skill of explaining the legal concepts to clients who do not have any understanding of the law, is transferable to the commercial law firm environment (where they may have to explain legal concepts in commercial rather than legal language). (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
We have participated in a drop-in clinic. Younger lawyers greatly enjoy attending as it challenges them to understand and identify legal problems, increases their skills and enables them to engage with the community using their legal skills. Initially lawyers were sometimes challenged by the type of legal knowledge required but we are assisting the service with legal education and training programs and have encouraged the formalisation of volunteer agreements. This is now going from strength to strength. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Clinic work also builds the networks of the host organisation and the lawyers involved in the clinic which similarly benefits everyone involved. For example, the Partner, Pro Bono Community Support at Lander & Rogers, Joanna Renkin, explained that her firm’s involvement in clinic work has developed relationships within and between firms, with the lawyers involved in the clinics working together and also meeting outside of the clinic to discuss the work of the clinic. ‘Landers lawyers catch up for coffee with lawyers from Hall & Wilcox (firm located in the same building as Landers) who are also working at the Seniors Rights Legal Clinic to discuss issues arising from the work of the clinic.’
Clinic work brings together lawyers from different practice groups who would not otherwise have reason to interact with each other, leading to positive outcomes for team building and cross-fertilisation of ideas. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Having a number of different firms involved in a clinic can also minimise conflict of interest problems as there are other firms’ staff immediately available when a firm has a conflict. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Lawyers involved in clinics also draw on and learn from the experience of those involved in the clinic, both within and outside the firm. The ability to draw on each partner’s networks can have a very positive impact, widening the pool of lawyers that are available to call on for help with future legal problems.
CLCs and large city firms each have different sets of networks. CLCs come with knowledge of the local service providers and of each others’ service eg support services for clients and specialised legal services. Large city firms have networks of barristers and corporate clients who could provide assistance to particular clients. (CLC principal solicitor)
The relationships that are developed between pro bono providers and host organisations by doing clinic work together can also lead to a greater level of commitment to assisting the host organisation and additional resources being provided. For example, Herbert Smith Freehills’ (HSF) long-standing relationship with the Inner Melbourne Community Legal (formerly North Melbourne Legal Service) has resulted in the firm providing IMLS with pro bono legal advice on various projects; sending solicitors on secondment; and providing in-kind support to IMLS, including hosting events, publications and providing funding towards a project between IMLS and the Royal Women’s Hospital to reduce violence against women.
Relationships are developed between the firms and the welfare agencies (as well as between our CLC and the firms) which increases the firms’ commitment to the clinic. Firms share in fundraising activities for the welfare agency, allocate non-legal staff to assist in other ways. (CLC coordinator)
20.3 CLINICS: CHALLENGES/LIMITATIONS
It can be difficult to secure and maintain the funding needed to set up and continue running clinics. While clinics may rely heavily on pro bono assistance, significant resources from the partner and host organisation are still required to manage, coordinate and supervise the work.
One large law firm provides volunteers to a specialist employment law clinic (5–6 volunteers on a rotating basis once a month) with supervisors who are volunteers (not paid by firms) in a completely unfunded service. Flood relief was able to do more because of one-off funding. (CLC coordinator)
Clinics rely on having a community partner to manage the clinic and provide access to clients from the target group and are therefore vulnerable to changes in the health, effectiveness and capacity of the partner organisation that can result from factors like staff turnover, mismanagement or loss of funding. For example, Michelle Hannon explained that G+T provided two lawyers once a month to a clinic in a partnership which worked very well for around 10 years. However, turnover in the partner organisation led to decreasing numbers of experienced staff involved in the clinic. ‘Training for the firm’s lawyers became less readily available and less clients were turning up to the clinic as the host organisation had less capacity to consult clients, follow up matters and coordinate the underlying services. The firm found that it became increasingly difficult to attract lawyers to the roster for the clinic and decided that it was not the best use of its resources to staff a clinic where client numbers were dropping.’
Our community partner suddenly closed its service for a lengthy period and by the time they reopened, we had moved on. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Many of those consulted spoke of the challenges relating to the recruitment, training and supervision of appropriate volunteers to staff clinics that is required to monitor and maintain the quality of the pro bono legal work. Adequate resources need to be made available for training and supervising pro bono lawyers who may not be familiar with the area of law or the non-legal issues affecting people who use the service.
While the legal issues are often not complex, the lawyers involved need to be appropriately trained in both the relevant law and issues affecting clients. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
For a mid-size firm, budget and capacity are more limited than for a larger firm. This means that gathering a group of lawyers to take part in clinics and/or training over a day or days can be challenging. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Training is resource intensive to set up, but is easy to run once it is established. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
To maintain an appropriate standard of legal work, adequate supervision needs to be in place, both at the clinic and when the matters undertaken at the clinic are being checked by supervisors at a firm.
Another challenge is managing the different expectations about how work is conducted and the quality of the work which arise due to the different experiences and cultural differences between the host organisation and the pro bono provider.
Ensuring quality of advice can be a real challenge. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Pro bono solicitors may not be aware of the structure of the CLC or limitations on its service. This can mean that the solicitors may make representations on behalf of the CLC regarding further assistance which is beyond the resources of the CLC. Occasionally, pro bono solicitors may be tempted to advise on areas outside the scope of the CLC’s expertise (or insurance coverage). (CLC principal solicitor)
It can be difficult to ensure there is adequate supervision within the firm and some firms have not responded well to feedback that their supervision of clinic lawyers is not adequate. Some firms use junior lawyers for supervision of even more junior clinic lawyers, and this has affected the quality of the work contributed by these firms. (PBRO manager)
Different approaches of firms and CLCs are reflected in the work of the pro bono lawyers that staff the duty service. It can be tricky to manage the differences and the CLC needs to be careful to communicate about their philosophy eg the time they give to either party is different when there are no billables, safety of the family is paramount. (CLC principal solicitor)
Some of those consulted expressed concern about the lack of a broader strategic direction for clinics and highlighted the need to prioritise greatest needs, define the scope of clinic work, and ensure that clinic work has a purpose beyond assisting individual clients. (See also Chapter 5 Where pro bono resources should be directed.)
It can be a challenge to target people with the greatest needs, eg some of the people who approach the Seniors Rights Legal Clinic in Melbourne for assistance can afford to pay for legal services and are sometimes service shopping. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Budgetary constraints force firms to look at how resources are allocated and ways to control the use of resources eg time limits for each matter. Up to now HPLC has taken priority over everything else. However some individual HPLC files can take up a lot of resources, which leaves less for anything else. We may need to reassess our priorities. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Doing clinic work can be very time consuming and it is sometimes difficult to see where it leads. People seeking assistance at clinics often have multiple problems so the resolution is not satisfactory for their situation. There needs to be a strategic goal for clinics so that they are doing more than resolving individual matters, for which there is a never-ending source of clients and problems. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Clients can return to clinics many times with similar problems like fines. Lawyers need support with how to scope and end the assistance. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
The administration and coordination of all the participants in a clinic model can be highly resource intensive. Michelle Hannon explained that administration can be more challenging for clinics than in a case referral model as many more clients are taken on at one time in a clinic model. G+T will provide advice to a maximum of 5-6 clients during an outreach session. The firm needs a full list of clients from the agency (which takes the appointments) so that conflict checks can be done before the advice session.
We have to call clients to confirm appointments as the host organisations often fail to do this, and we have to chase host organisations for the list. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
20.4 FEATURES OF EFFECTIVE CLINICS
To address the concern that clinic work may not always be targeting greatest needs it is important that the clinic is focused on an area of unmet legal need that has been identified consistently in research.
The decisions we make about the clinics that we will support are based on established unmet legal need and research on how to address those needs. Our clinics are based on findings of the Law and Justice Foundation’s research on access to justice and the value of outreach clinics. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Clinics cannot exist without effective partnerships between firms and appropriate, well-run and trusted community organisations which provide lawyers with access to the target client group. It is therefore important for pro bono providers to choose the right host agency and maintain a strong, supportive relationship with it.
A well organised and resourced host agency will promote the clinic, reaching appropriate clients, making clear to clients what the clinic does and does not do and why, and is able to refer non-legal matters that the clinic does not deal with. (PBRO manager)
There needs to be a peak of enthusiasm to get the clinic organised (after initial set up, clinics are generally well organised). (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
The strength of a host agency can make or break an outreach clinic, and can change in a relatively short space of time. If a key personality leaves an organisation, others may follow, and a less effective organisation is unlikely to attract clients. The investment of time and resources in building an outreach clinic needs to be followed by an ongoing investment in maintenance of the relationships and health of the host organisation. (University law school pro bono manager)
Having a clear agreement between partners from the beginning about what each of them is contributing to the clinic can avoid problems arising later. This may include specific details about issues like the number of hours and the period of time, the types of matters that a firm will or will not take on, and who is responsible for rostering and supervision. It can be helpful to formalise this agreement in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between a firm and CLC hosting a clinic.
Given that the primary aim of clinics is to provide access to justice to people who face particular barriers, it is essential that clinics are established in an accessible location for potential clients, preferably co-located with other services they use.
The ideal is when a service can be co-located/integrated with other client services eg the multi-disciplinary clinic at Monash where law, social work and commerce students assist clients. However, this is an ideal that is difficult to implement, especially where the unmet legal need is complex. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
In addition to being accessible for clients, realistically it is difficult for clinics to operate if they are not also in an accessible location for the pro bono lawyers staffing the clinics. (See also 6.2 Distance from major cities.)
The Homeless Persons Legal Service works really well … the lawyers always have clients and its not far for them to go from the firm to the clinic. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Running outreach in an urban location is much easier than in RRR areas given lawyers do not have to travel far to the clinic and have support/resources/supervision close by. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Support for the clinic within the firms providing staff, particularly amongst the firm’s leadership, has an impact on every aspect of the work of the clinic. One large law firm pro bono coordinator explained that they are actively promoting the work of clinics within the firm, for example, with a one-page explanation of lawyers’ participation in HPLC being provided over the past six months to supervising partners of lawyers wanting to participate. ‘While their coordinators for the HPLC have not received any direct feedback about the document, they said that they do feel it is useful, as it keeps the lines of communication open between partners and lawyers in relation to their involvement in the HPLC and ensures that partners are informed about how lawyers are spending their time and why.’
Our work with the HPLC is really helped by the fact that there are partners in each of the state offices of our firm who are genuinely committed to homelessness issues. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Many of the lawyers working in clinics are very dedicated and would like to do more, but are hampered by the lack of pro bono culture within their firm. (PBRO manager)
It is essential that the firms which contribute lawyers to the clinics are committed to the work of the clinics. (CLC coordinator)
There also needs to be a match between the skills and interests of the individual lawyers who staff clinics and the needs of the clinic. On the whole, the pro bono lawyers who attended clinics were described by the host agencies consulted as highly respectful, professional and committed.
We appreciate firms that understand that they can’t just send anyone to work with vulnerable clients and do not presume that any good lawyer can just jump in to do clinic work. They need other skills and adequate training and orientation to be effective. (CLC solicitor)
Some CLCs shared the proactive steps they have taken to avoid having inappropriate lawyers recruited to work at their clinics. For example, the Principal Lawyer at Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC), Belinda Lo, explained that firms/volunteers are not attractive to CLCs unless they understand where clients are coming from. ‘ECLC communicates with firms and pro bono solicitors before partnering with them about what it will be like to volunteer and what the philosophy of the CLC is. ECLC has prepared a brochure that tells firms what the CLC does and what volunteering involves.’
Once appropriate lawyers have been recruited to staff clinics, they need to be provided with training in both the legal and non-legal issues likely to arise during the course of their pro bono work at the clinic, and for many lawyers who may not normally deal with people who are profoundly disadvantaged, how to deal with the clinic’s clients. Experience and expertise in areas of law practised by corporate firms does not necessarily qualify or prepare a lawyer for community practice.2 The way that the host organisation works may be quite different from what the pro bono lawyer is used to at their firm, due to the different philosophy of the organisation. The training may also include very practical information: for example, the coordinator of the Housing Legal Clinics at the Welfare Rights Centre in South Australia, Bill Manallack, explains that lawyers are told to sit between the client and the door so if there are concerns with a difficult client they can get out of the room quickly. The community organisations and CLCs that host clinics need to be well resourced to provide this training.3
It is essential to provide coordinated and regular training for lawyers working at the clinic, given they may be working outside their area of expertise (both initial and refresher training where the lawyers attend clinics infrequently eg once a month). (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Training needs to come from the community organisation or other practitioners/barristers in the legal context. Corporate lawyers also need training in how to deal with the clients they might meet; including how the social welfare system works and what support services exist for referral. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Our CLC provides volunteer solicitors with a proper induction and continuous communication to ensure that they understand and reflect the philosophy and approach of the CLC. While CLCs are loathe to ruin a relationship with a firm that is providing staff resources, neither the firm nor the CLC is happy if problems are not effectively communicated. (CLC principal solicitor)
Providing support to pro bono solicitors who participate in clinics may also help to support solicitors who may not be aware of the structure of the CLC or the limitations on its service.
The Employment Law Centre of Western Australia Inc (ELC) has successfully used law students to provide the pro bono solicitors working in its specialist clinic with support during client appointments, which has been particularly helpful where pro bono solicitors are new to the work of the CLC. The Principal Solicitor at ELC, Toni Emmanuel explained that: ‘All pro bono solicitors who volunteer with ELC’s specialist clinic (our Evening Legal Service (ELS)) are supported by a law student volunteer who can manage the expectation of further assistance while in the appointment as well as taking a comprehensive file note during the appointment. By having this volunteer support, solicitors can see more clients during ELS because the administrative work is performed by the volunteer law student. Volunteer law student support has been a very effective feature of our ELS.’
A well run clinic will have effective processes for coordinating the work and managing the pro bono lawyers staffing the clinic. Many of those consulted said that having a team leader/contact point at either or both the host agency and the pro bono provider end was very important. For example, Bill Manallack said that it is essential to provide coordination and management support to the law firms and welfare agencies involved in clinics. He prioritises attendance at clinics and personally attends each legal clinic taking a ‘hands on’ approach to managing (linking clients with welfare services, and managing clients’ links to lawyers and other services).
It is important to have someone in charge of the running of the clinic (not a legal supervisor, but an organisational manager) who is a point of contact for the firms and the community organisations and works out any problems. This can be either someone from a firm or from the host organisation, but needs to have a holistic view of the work of the clinic. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
It can be a very onerous task for the host organisation to find lawyers to fill every shift. Partnering with a firm moves the administrative burden of rostering to the firm. (University pro bono manager)
It is helpful when each law firm has a team leader who organises rostering, and allocation of appropriate lawyers for a matter requiring particular expertise. (CLC coordinator)
Having an effective broker to organise the clinics’ participants is essential. [Justice Connect] do a good job of brokering, bringing firms together to work at clinics. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
There needs to be flexibility in the management of the roster. If a lawyer cannot attend the clinic when rostered due to other work commitments the coordinator will try to find someone to replace them on that day. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
There are also practical considerations that need to be taken into account when involving pro bono lawyers in a clinic, including health and safety assessments/procedures for staff. For example, the former Pro Bono Manager at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Heidi Roberts explained that Corrs lawyers are trained to block caller ID when calling clients from the firm, and use the letterhead of the host organisation for correspondence. ‘Before they do any work at the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the staff at the host agency manages the appointments so if a client is drunk or agitated then they will call the lawyer and cancel the appointment. They have also installed an emergency alarm button.’
Clinics may be conducted offsite, with documents moving between several locations: for example, between the host organisation’s premises, and the offices of a law firm. As a result, an essential part of coordinating pro bono programs involving clinics is having clear file management procedures. Given the limited resources of clinics, the administrative systems for file keeping, document management and appointments need to be as efficient and low-cost as possible.
Strict file management procedures are needed for example, to ensure that if work is brought back to the firm that the clinic file is properly handed over. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Depending on how the clinic is organised and the agreement between the partners, it may be the host organisation supervises the lawyers and has them work under its own name, or alternatively that the firm also takes a supervisory role. Either way, maintaining the quality of the pro bono work undertaken in clinics requires a significant amount of adequate supervision, especially since it is often junior staff working at clinics.4 One CLC Principal Solicitor explained that they provided written feedback to their clinic staff, especially if file notes were incomplete or advice was inaccurate or incomplete. ‘It is time-consuming but ultimately worth the effort in terms of the quality of advice and training of the lawyers.’
Some of those consulted expressed the view that it is preferable for firms to involve senior lawyers in the supervision of junior lawyers working in clinics, while one large firm made the point that some less senior lawyers are capable of providing effective supervision.
Mallesons have involved two Special Counsel who have relevant expertise in infringements. [Justice Connect] recommends that there is a debrief meeting on the day of the clinic or the next day involving the senior lawyer. Corrs, Minter Ellison and Mallesons all do this well. (PBRO manager)
HPLC clinic is on Thursday and the lawyers involved debrief with their supervising partner on Friday before they autonomously work on the matter. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Commitment is as much a factor as seniority when ensuring adequate supervision and quality of work. We have senior associates and other senior lawyers supervising the work of junior lawyers at HPLC, but I’ve also has seen 2nd/3rd year lawyers who can provide effective supervision. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Some of the large law firms consulted expressed a preference for clinic work to be limited to a small pool of lawyers and contained to a specific number of hours to make it easy for them to manage the supervision and quality control.
It is best if the work required can be contained to a specific number of hours, conducted on a roster. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
We try to effectively manage clinic volunteers so that they are not spending unnecessary time over-servicing clients. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Having a small pool of lawyers, so that they can maintain familiarity with the clients and the host agency, works well for us. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
20.5 CASE STUDIES
- 20.5.1 Case study: The Roster and the Manning Street Project (UQ Pro Bono Centre)
- 20.5.2 Case study: Refugee Advice and Casework Service and Henry Davis York
20.5.1 Case study: Self Representation Service (Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House)
The Self Representation Service (SRS)5 run by the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH) provides free legal advice and assistance to self-represented parties in the Supreme and District Courts of Queensland, the Queensland Court of Appeal, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and the Brisbane district of the Federal Court and Federal Magistrates Court. The Service was the first of its kind in Australia, developed to meet a recognised need in all jurisdictions in which it operates. Similar services now exist in other jurisdictions.
The Service aims to help self-represented parties to understand the law and the rights and perspective of the other party, observe court and tribunal rules and procedures, be aware of potential orders and the effect of not complying with orders, and present their case in the best possible manner.
- Discrete nature of tasks. The work is contained to three hours of appointments and work is not taken back to the firm. Preparation is as little as a conflict check and reading the client and case summary for each scheduled appointment.
- The service provides access to courts, which is the ultimate form of access to justice. Providing a service that assists unrepresented parties to access the system, especially when considering that one third are defendants who are there against their will, is improving access to justice.
- SRS provides assistance at every stage of the process, which is better than a duty lawyer service. Twenty percent of the service’s clients are diverted before initiating proceedings, with more being diverted later in the proceedings.
- The service directs people away from the court system when their case has no merit, avoiding the adverse costs orders they would receive if they pursued a case with no merit.
- Initially firms expressed concern about whether the service targets greatest needs. Some clients have the means to pay, but these clients are only provided with one appointment and no ongoing assistance. The view of Tony Woodyatt, Director of QPILCH, is it is still worthwhile to provide this service, especially where cases with no merit can be directed out of the court system.
- Initially firms were concerned about whether their lawyers would have the expertise to resolve the legal issues, for example, in a defamation case. However Tony Woodyatt explained that the service is ‘often more about translation of the client’s issue to legal language and vice versa into plain English that the client can understand, rather than complex legal issues. Knowledge of the relevant rules is sufficient.’
Features that make it effective
- QPILCH provides volunteer lawyers with case summaries before the scheduled session, so the lawyer can do research if they need to.
- The litigation skills of the volunteer lawyers are a match for the need. Some firms occasionally contribute senior staff, including partners. Tony Woodyatt explained that ‘a tough, firm, experienced lawyer can be a good match for a difficult client who needs to hear the reality of their situation and prospects (different to the kind of lawyer that would be a match for a vulnerable Homeless Persons’ Legal Service client).’
20.5.2 Case study: Refugee Advice and Casework Service and Henry Davis York
The HDY/RACS clinic is one of several pro bono clinics run by the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS). These clinics involve partner law firms providing lawyers who interview asylum seekers lodging an application for a protection visa subject to the fast track assessment process.
In an ever-changing law and policy environment, different rules apply to different asylum seekers, depending on when the asylum seekers arrived in Australia and whether by boat or plane. The HDY/RACS clinic takes statements from asylum seekers who arrived by boat between 13 August 2012 and 31 December 2013.
The clinic commenced in November 2015 with 39 lawyers from Henry Davis York (HDY) participating, including several partners, senior associates and special counsel. In preparation for running the clinic, the HDY lawyers attended a training session delivered by RACS on ‘Refugee Law Basics’. The lawyers also attended an observation session where they could view a statement being taken by an experienced lawyer before they interviewed a client on their own at the HDY/RACS clinic.
The clinic is conducted on-site at HDY. The three-hour sessions, for up to five clients at a time, are held at least fortnightly and often weekly. Client documents are sent to the lawyers before the clinic date, with a draft file note or checklist, a draft statement for the client, and an email prepared by RACS’ solicitor/migration agent that details the questions to be asked and the legal issues.
HDY lawyers work in pairs, which allows one lawyer to concentrate on interviewing while the other focuses on drafting the statement. A RACS solicitor (who is also a registered migration agent) attends to supervise the appointment and sign off on the statement, which is printed and provided to the client at the end of the appointment. The RACS solicitor is also on hand to answer any other migration advice required by the client.
- Addresses the unmet legal need of an extremely vulnerable group facing entrenched disadvantage.
- Provides a pro bono opportunity in a high-profile area of need in which lawyers are keen to become involved.
- Provides discrete yet interesting pro bono work, being contained to the period of the clinic and not requiring extra travel time.
- As the work is supervised by a RACS solicitor and covered under RACS PI insurance, it is low-risk for the firm and does not present direct conflicts of interest.
- Lawyers develop their client interviewing, statement drafting and communication skills in a challenging cross-cultural context, and learn to work with interpreters.
- Lawyers have the opportunity to work in a new and changing policy environment.
- Provides opportunities for the firm’s support staff to also become involved; for example paralegals help with typing statements and secretaries assist with the scheduling of clients, lawyers and interpreters.
- Development of a pro bono relationship that leads to further assistance and support being provided to the community legal centre; for example, after the establishment of the clinic HDY has provided employment law advice and a donation to RACS.
- The clinic requires a great deal of administrative support as each clinic relies on the organisation of up to five clients, ten lawyers, five interpreters, five rooms with laptops and IT support and a RACS solicitor. It can be very challenging to coordinate, particularly when any one of these elements drops out at the last moment.
- Lawyers need to develop broader interviewing skills to effectively assist clients who have experienced trauma and may not be comfortable in the environment of the law firm offices, and strategies for coping with their own emotional responses to traumatic client stories.
Features that make it effective
- High-quality training and preparation of the lawyers for the clinics.
- A dedicated contact and coordination person at both HDY and RACS, with adequate administrative support to assist with scheduling all the parties and resources involved.
- Effective communication between pro bono partners, with an MOU setting out expectations of both partners from the beginning of the relationship.
- Flexibility to deal with unexpected last minute changes to scheduling and rostered clients/lawyers/interpreters.
Australian Pro Bono Centre, Australian Pro Bono Manual (3rd edition), LexisNexis, Sydney, 2016, Chapter 2.2 Risk management.
2 National Association of Community Legal Centres, Working Collaboratively: Community Legal Centres and Pro Bono Partnerships (2012) p 4, http://www.naclc.org.au/resources/NACLC_PROBONO_web2012.pdf.
3 The 106 CLCs that responded to the National Association of Community Legal Centres survey in June 2012 reported investing 8,674 hours per year providing general induction and training to pro bono workers and volunteers and 2,276 hours per year providing additional training for direct service delivery (eg for lawyers and paralegals). See National Association of Community Legal Centres, Working Collaboratively: Community Legal Centres and Pro Bono Partnerships (2012) p 4, at http://www.naclc.org.au/resources/NACLC_PROBONO_web2012.pdf.
4 The 106 CLCs that responded to the National Association of Community Legal Centres Survey in June 2012 reported investing 1,071 hours per year supervising pro bono workers and volunteers, including checking all their legal advices and providing feedback or supplementary advice where necessary. See National Association of Community Legal Centres, Working Collaboratively: Community Legal Centres and Pro Bono Partnerships (2012) p 4, at http://www.naclc.org.au/resources/NACLC_PROBONO_web2012.pdf.