Task Force Reports to Government
23 July 2001 at 1:07 pm
The long-awaited report by the National Task Force into pro bono legal work has been delivered to the Attorney General – with the centrepiece of the Recommended Action Plan being the establishment of an Australian Pro Bono Resource Centre.
For the Not for Profit sector, the report’s findings and recommendations offer some interesting insights into the assumptions, opinions and purpose of pro bono legal work in Australia.
The Task Force was established on the success of the For the Public Good: The First National Pro Bono Law Conference in Canberra last August. Its role was to crystallise the suggested outcomes of that conference and report to the Government on how best to implement some of those outcomes.
The President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Professor David Weisbrot, chaired the Task Force and says the report documents the enormous contribution already made by Australian lawyers in donating time, expertise and resources. But even in combination with legal aid, there is still a high degree of unfulfilled legal need in the community.
He says the challenge for the Task Force was to focus on pragmatic methods for enhancing access to the justice system for disadvantaged members of the community or those with modest means, through the delivery of more and better-targeted pro bono legal services.
He says it is often suggested that pro bono work is mainly the preserve of the large, well-resourced, commercial law firms located in the capital city CBDs.
However, a survey of some small-to-medium sized firms in rural and regional New South Wales conducted on behalf of the Task Force found that most of the solicitors contacted were undertaking very high levels of pro bono work.
Prof. Weisbrot says the Task Force also spent considerable time addressing the key issue of the ‘mismatch’ between client needs on the one hand, and the supply (and accessibility) of pro bono legal services on the other.
At the Conference, it was widely discussed that major law firms reported that while they had a strong commitment to pro bono practice, they were actually unable to spend their annual pro bono budgets because of insufficient or inappropriate referrals.
Prof. Weisbrot says the Task Force believes that this problem goes much deeper than fine-tuning the mechanics of referral. At the heart of the mismatch is the fact that the areas of greatest need are in family law and criminal law, personal injury, migration and administrative matters (eg social security appeals). However, these are precisely the areas in which the large corporate law firms do not have in-house expertise.
The Task Force report says that an effective remedy for the mismatch must involve a more long-term and complex approach including:
· promoting a culture receptive to pro bono work;
· improving outreach services and community education;
· providing tools and training to willing lawyers;
· providing ‘matchmaking’ opportunities that will enable skills and resources to be sent from wherever they are located to wherever they are most needed;
· removing structural barriers;
· sharing information about successful programs in Australia and overseas.
But who will be responsible for all this facilitation, creative development, co-ordination and quality control?
The major recommendation is the establishment of an Australian Pro Bono Resource Centre. The May 2001 Budget allocated $1 million over 4 years to support the recommendations of the Task Force.
The other recommendations include:
– Producing a best practice Handbook for Managing Pro Bono Law
– Supporting Client-Focussed Research
– Developing national Professional Practice Standards for pro bono legal services
– Fostering a strong pro bono culture in Australia
For a full copy of the National Pro Bono Task Force Report in Word format just send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any comments to make on the report why not add them to our Pro Bono Australia on-line Forum at probonoaustralia.com.au.