In Recognition of Pro Bono Legal Work
14 August 2000 at 1:08 pm
The first national Pro Bono Law Conference in Melbourne at the start of the month brought together an enormous wealth of information and debate on the state of legal work for the public good in Australia.
The conference hosted more than three hundred participants from all areas of the legal profession including the judiciary, State and Federal Government departments, universities, community legal centres, advocacy groups and major law firms.
Federal Attorney General, Daryl Williams QC opened the conference and took the opportunity to acknowledge the extent and impact of pro bono work carried out in Australia.
‘Everyone involved in pro bono work in Australia makes a very real and meaningful contribution to our legal system and to our society.’
He said pro bono work had been going on for centuries without government intervention. However, there is a need to pool resources, ideas and expertise and come up with the best possible responses to a range of issues affecting pro bono in Australia.
‘We need to work in partnership- to form a social coalition of the legal profession, the community sector, welfare groups and the Government working together to identify and tackle pro bono issues.’
The Attorney General outlined some of the suggestions put forward in the organisation phase of the conference.
He said the pro bono effort around the country is fragmented and there is a need to share and coordinate resources to make sure the right services are available to the people who need them.
One suggestion is to establish a national consultative body to coordinate pro bono work and to develop a web-based, national database of services to share information and ideas.
As well the Attorney General denied the suggestion that the Government considers pro bono work as some sort of substitute for legal aid and he encouraged it so that legal aid can be scaled back.
‘It is important that I make it clear that this view is wrong. The delivery of justice in Australia has always taken many forms. This means I will continue to support pro bono work. This will not be at the expense of legal aid or any other part of the legal system.’
There is very little hard data on the dollar value of pro bono work in Australia. The Conference was told that it is only possible to come up with ‘ball-park’ figures on estimates provided by some State Law Societies.
Simon Rice, the Immediate Past Director of the Law Foundation of NSW estimated that the value of annual pro bono work in Victoria is worth about $91 million, NSW $83 million, and South Australia $44 million. Another source estimated the value for West Australia at $10 million per year.
One interesting statistic to emerge from the conference suggests that pro bono work has a healthy future. The conference heard that an estimated 70 percent of law graduates being interviewed for Articled Clerks positions ask what pro bono schemes are used by the law firm as a deciding factor in whether or not they want to work for that firm.
After the conference an implementation group met to discuss how pro bono work can be organised and formalised. There’ll be more from the conference speakers and the working group in future e-Newsletters.