In addition to pro bono legal assistance, many firms have well-established programs offering a wide variety of non-legal assistance to their community partner organisations, including use of meeting rooms, library or research assistance, catering or other facilities, printing or publications assistance, administrative assistance, information technology, public relations and marketing, assistance with fundraising, donation of equipment (eg desks or computers) and financial donations. In many cases this support is provided with the assistance of the non-legal staff at law firms.
While this type of assistance falls outside the definition of pro bono legal work, in-kind support offered to community organisations (particularly those that provide legal services themselves) is an important adjunct to many firms’ pro bono programs.1
Firms provide non-legal support to boost the capacity of CLCs, such as assistance with human resources, recruitment and retention strategies (which is a real concern for CLCs), training, events management, access to legal research resources, administrative assistance, typing etc. (CLC manager)
An administrative secondment of an afternoon a month at a legal centre occurred over 18 months. This enabled four non-legal staff to attend on a roster and provide good support to the centre including typing, filing and attending meetings and taking notes on a laptop which could then be circulated immediately. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
The non-legal assistance model can be used as a way to develop a pro bono culture throughout a firm, and provide non-legal staff with opportunities to become involved in pro bono.
Some firms are interested in using their non-legal staff to do pro bono work to encourage a firm-wide contribution eg IT staff help with the website and podcasts. (PBRO manager)
However, one PBRO manager warned that it is important to ensure that increasing non-legal assistance does not become a way of reducing the amount of legal assistance provided by a firm without affecting overall pro bono hours.
Some firms are trying to engage more non-legal staff… While it is a positive idea to have a whole of firm approach to pro bono, overall it has the potential to reduce the number of hours of legal work done which is where the greatest need lies. It may also be a way for some firms to make up their pro bono hours without losing lawyers’ billable hours. (PBRO manager)
Some firms may limit the amount of pro bono support provided in cases where substantial assistance (such as client representation) is necessary, on the grounds that they have provided administrative assistance on a number of occasions. (CLC, principal solicitor)
The Executive Director at Western Community Legal Centre, Denis Nelthorpe, said that firms could really assist CLCs with more administrative assistance and that CLCs needed to be more upfront about their weaknesses in this area. ‘CLC administrative processes may be 20 years old with open files stored numerically rather than alphabetically and appointments kept in books rather than electronically.’ A law firm provided Western CLC with an administrative assistant for a month when the CLC was short-staffed.
30.1 CASE STUDIES
- 30.1.1 Case studies: Employment Law Centre of Western Australia Inc
- 30.1.2 Case studies: Women’s Legal Service (Qld) and Colin Biggers & Paisley
30.1.1 Case studies: Employment Law Centre of Western Australia Inc
The Employment Law Centre of WA (ELC) receives a substantial amount of non-legal pro bono assistance in the form of administrative support. This support includes:
- sponsored places at legal seminars and conferences;
- free venues and catering for staff training;
- IT support and expertise;
- donated law reports;
- journal articles from law firm libraries;
- grants for office supplies;
- creation of ELC templates; and
- provision of archive space.
The sponsored places at legal seminars and conferences, the venues for staff training and the access to journal material all provide opportunities for in-house staff to increase their knowledge and thereby improve the ELC’s service.
Administrative support can be provided by a firm without a large investment of time and without straining a company’s resources: for example, free venue hire and catering takes no time from a law firm’s fee-earners and has minimal impact on the firm’s resources. Similarly, sponsoring a staff member to attend a seminar or conference requires only a small fee (or may be cost neutral where a firm’s lawyer is offered a guest spot at a seminar he/she is presenting) which makes little impact on the firm’s profitability and requires no time from fee-earners.
ELC has also been provided with software to capture its clients’ information and templates for communications with clients. ELC has received support from a law firm’s IT expert who created a set of ELC document templates, and also from a software engineer who created the ELC client database. This has been the most time-intensive administrative support received by ELC which, if not provided for free, would have been costly to obtain.
In terms of the creation of ELC templates, the following features contributed to the project’s success:
- the firm ELC approached to design the template had in-house staff with the requisite skill set;
- an agreement was made on the amount of work involved in the project and the timeline it should adhere to;
- the staff members responsible for the project from both the pro bono firm and ELC were in frequent contact to ensure the templates fit ELC’s needs; and
- the administrative costs to both ELC and the pro bono firm were minimal.
This pro bono assistance contributes significantly to ELC. Through this type of administrative pro bono support, we are able to expand our resources, train our staff effectively, improve our office equipment and software and attend events we would otherwise not be able to afford to attend. (Toni Emmanuel, former Principal Solicitor, Employment Law Centre of Western Australia (Inc))
30.1.2 Case studies: Women’s Legal Service (Qld) and Colin Biggers & Paisley
Women’s Legal Service (WLS) is a community legal centre providing free legal and social work services to Queensland women. WLS assists women in the areas of family law, child support, domestic violence and child protection, as well as providing community legal education.
In January 2015 Colin Biggers & Paisley (CBP) launched the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation with initial seed funding of $500,000. The Foundation provides three streams of assistance: pro bono legal services, volunteering and charitable contributions, and focuses strategically on promoting and protecting the rights of women and children in Australia and abroad.
Early in 2015, the Foundation entered into a 12-month partnership with WLS. The partnership, which has been extended until June 2017, provides a range of services and assistance that help WLS continue to operate. The partnership draws on all three of the streams of assistance provided under the Foundation.
(a) CBP provides a range of pro bono assistance to address WLS’s organisational needs, for example giving WLS advice on employment law, contract law and property/leasing. CBP has also held a legal skills workshop for the WLS board focusing on governance issues. Beyond that, the firm and WLS plan to set up a specialised legal clinic that provides compensation to victims of domestic violence. CBP also accepts requests from WLS to assist clients with discrete aspects of matters particularly in areas such as debt and tenancy.
(b) CBP has provided general volunteer assistance in the form of working bees held at WLS premises. Professional volunteer assistance has also been provided, drawing on the firm’s wide range of skills including finance and accounting, information technology, graphic design, human resources and event management.
(c) CBP donates and raises funds to assist WLS financially and help reduce its overheads. The CBP Workplace Giving Project enables partners and staff to contribute pre-tax dollars to WLS and those funds are sent directly to WLS. Additionally, CBP has sponsored several WLS events including its signature event, the White Ribbon Day Supreme Court Breakfast. The Foundation makes strategic corporate contributions to WLS throughout the year, including partial financial sponsorship of a WLS lawyer. The firm also provides a wide range of in-kind support to WLS such as the use of our meeting rooms, catering and printing.
Strategically CBP has developed relationships with the Women’s Legal Services in each State in which the firm is based.
- A holistic approach that includes legal, non-legal and financial assistance gives the partnership a number of layers and this helps deepen CBP’s understanding of what WLS does and why.
By using the three streams of our Foundation in tandem, we are able to assist WLS with a wide variety of their needs and develop a really deep understanding of each other which helps build trust, respect and commitment.
Our partners and staff have become more familiar with the work and mission of WLS by working regularly with them and in turn, we have hopefully quickly developed a strong and respected relationship with WLS and the community in which it operates. What that means at the end of the day is that our people are more engaged with WLS and more willing to take on pro bono work or volunteer their time and expertise. (Dan Creasey, Partner, Head of Pro Bono and Responsible Business.)
- Focusing the firm’s community program on a number of key relationships enables the firm to do more with less.
By making WLS a priority client and by attempting to do as much as possible with them, we have got to know their staff, their board and other key stakeholders involved with them. In turn, we hopeful to develop the status of trusted legal adviser and trusted provider. What that hopefully means is that it is easier, quicker and more efficient for WLS to seek and obtain the support and services it needs and that it always provided to the highest possible standards.
- CBP’s primary challenge has been learning to say ‘no’ when they simply cannot assist either because of capacity or expertise. It’s important to say no quickly and to manage expectations carefully and appropriately.
Features that make it effective
- CBP treats WLS in exactly the same way as their commercial clients in terms of maintaining the relationship and in terms of service levels:
We invite them to our internal morning teas so that they can present on key topics and/or the work they are doing, they are invited to key functions such as client Christmas parties or other client functions and we send them updates on areas of law or other developments and trends in the legal profession which are relevant to them and their work.
- Communication is the key to any successful partnership. Through a number of touch points, the firm is able to respond promptly and constructively to requests from WLS.
We also hold quarterly meetings with WLS to discuss key pro bono projects or matters that we are involved in, volunteering opportunities and fund raising initiatives which are in the pipeline. This is an opportunity to reflect on what is working well and where there is also room for improvement. This is an opportunity for us to discuss capacity levels within the firm, our expertise and the key interests of particular people. We also use these meetings as an opportunity to test new ideas and concepts to see whether they will work with our firm or with other pro bono providers.
1 See National Pro Bono Resource Centre, Fourth National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey (Australian firms with fifty or more lawyers) – Final Report (2014) pp 66 and 76, https://probonocentre.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/4th_National_Law_Firm_Pro_Bono_Survey_2014_Final_Report.pdf.