A Charitable Partnership with the Law
Monday, 28th August 2000 at 12:08 pm
Communications and Marketing expert Jane Fenton believes Australian lawyers may be missing out on all the opportunities that come with having a well-defined and well-organised pro bono policy.
Fenton says law firms must become more corporate, and mirror the corporate business partnerships that are now showing great results for all participants.
Jane Fenton spoke at the inaugural Pro Bono Law Conference in Canberra earlier this month about ways in which law firms can attract and retain staff by offering a good, strong and active pro bono program.
As a lawyer with a long association in the Not for Profit sector, Fenton is in a unique position to consider the benefits for both sides.
She says she would actively encourage law firms to look for partnerships in the Not for Profit sector where commitment can be spread throughout the organisation.
‘There are numerous definitions of pro bono work and I would encourage the use of the broader definition to allow legal firms to become more corporate in their approach.
‘Pro bono work is not just representation in a major court case but also legal advice, education, administrative support and even policy formulation for charities.
She says law firms must have a well defined pro bono policy, where the work is managed and supervised and all those involved are absolutely clear on how it works. The clients must be regarded as first rate and lawyers should not be penalised for, or regarded as non-performers because of their pro bono work. As well a strong pro bono scheme attracts and keeps young lawyers.
While Australia has been considering ways to increase pro bono work, a survey of the 100 largest grossing legal firms in the United States shows a significant decrease in the amount of pro bono work performed by their ‘attorneys’ last year.
The survey by American Lawyer magazine shows that an estimated 50,000 lawyers averaged just 8 minutes a day on pro bono cases last year. The work is described as assisting people too poor to afford legal representation.
The report says this works out to about 36 hours a year per person…far below the minimum 50 hours recommended by the American Bar Association.
Jane Fenton says in many cases lawyers in Australia talk about doing pro bon work but it’s really on an ad hoc basis where for example partners do free work for their mates or for their favourite charity.
She says one advantage of having a sophisticated pro bono scheme is having the ammunition to say no to discounted work!
She says the analogy of the ‘head, the hip pocket and the heart’ are used to convince firms of the worth of pro bono work.
‘There is the logical use of pro bono work, particularly when it costs $140, 000 dollars to train a young lawyer who is attracted to stay because of the pro bono program, and the importance of being a professional where pro bono is at the heart of that profession.’
Fenton is one of five founding members of the Australian Institute of Corporate Citizenship which was set up in March this year. The Institute is preparing its marketing materials for release in the next few months. She is involved with the organisation ‘Very Special Kids’ and its partnership with Tattersalls.
You can contact Jane Fenton via e-mail at email@example.com.