Pro Bono Lawyers Vital to Community Legal Centres
Monday, 24th September 2007 at 4:04 pm
Australia’s legal volunteers are vital to the sustainability of Community Legal Centre service delivery, according to a national survey.
Some 70% of Community Legal Centres (CLCs) surveyed by the National Legal Pro Bono Resource Centre (the Centre) say that without pro bono assistance, key services such as advice clinics, complex casework and litigation could not be delivered at current levels.
The Centre conducted a national survey of CLCs and their use of pro bono assistance between March and July this year. The Centre surveyed 93 CLCs which make up 50% of the CLCs funded under the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Community Legal Service Program.
The full report was released at the National CLC Conference titled ‘Justice in a Climate of Change’ in Brisbane earlier this month.
Director of the Centre, John Corker says just under 4000 volunteers, most of whom are lawyers, assisted CLCs last year.
He says much of this was individual volunteering but there has also been a growth in law firms providing secondee lawyers to CLCs for periods of up to a year at a time, even longer.
Some firms have provided consecutive secondees to a CLC for many years.
Corker says these lawyers contribute in an important way by providing access to justice both for many who are not eligible for legal aid and for Not for Profit organisations that assist the poor, disadvantaged and marginalized.
Other key findings from the survey report show that some CLCs do not receive any pro bono assistance at all, and experience real difficulties getting the kind of help they need – particularly in the smaller States and Territories and in regional, rural and remote areas.
The survey found that the CLCs that spoke most highly of the pro bono assistance that they receive have forged close relationships with pro bono lawyers and firms. Building such longer term relationships is important and should be encouraged.
The report concludes that there also appears to be a deficit in pro bono assistance for some specialist CLCs.
Some Centres specialising in areas such as welfare rights, refugee and immigration work and environmental law may have problems getting pro bono help because of the lack of expertise in these areas, or conflicts of interest.
Other specialist CLCs, for example, the Arts Law Centre does not appear to have the same difficulties – probably reflecting the more readily available pro bono expertise in intellectual property and contract law required by this kind of CLC.
The report says there are also some areas of CLC service delivery which appear to get little pro bono assistance. It is likely that this reflects CLCs’ and pro bono lawyer’s respective skills, experience and expertise. For example, community legal education, community development and policy and law reform work are not areas for which pro bono assistance has been provided in any substantial amount.
It says that this does not mean that these areas of service delivery are "out of bounds” for pro bono support – and certainly it is an area where further efforts could be focused. Just as pro bono legal advice and casework can be delivered by way of discrete task assistance – pro bono assistance in these areas could be broken down into more manageable components.
The full survey report can be obtained at www.nationalprobono.org.au