PILCH Moves Towards New NFP Legal Service
19 November 2007 at 9:25 am
The Public Interest Law Clearing House, PILCH, has moved a step closer to establishing a new specialist legal service for Not for Profit organisations by obtaining part funding from the William Buckland Foundation and the Victorian Law Foundation. The service will be the first of its kind in Australia and possibly New Zealand and the UK.
In March 2007, the PILCH Board resolved to establish a new specialist legal service for NFPs based on a detailed research report. The report: looks at existing PILCH services; provides information on the NFP sector and the complex regulatory environment in which NFPs operate; looks at the need for new services and documents feedback from NFPs, members of PILCH and other stakeholders; considers recent Victorian government reviews of the sector and other service models (Australian and overseas); and proposes a new PILCH service delivery model.
Since its inception in 1994, PILCH has provided free legal assistance to eligible NFP organisations by leveraging the pro bono services of its member law firms, academics and barristers.
In a typical year, over 100 NFPs are referred for free advice, with a further 200 given information or other assistance, and many more attending PILCH’s low cost seminars and workshops. The NFPs that PILCH assists vary greatly in size and type. Many are very small and not well-known.
PILCH says the range of legal issues is also diverse, although there are some issues that are NFP-specific (e.g eligibility for ‘concessional’ tax status, volunteers):
PILCH’s Policy Officer, Sue Woodward, says the key objectives of the new service are:
1. To provide NFP organisations with high quality, accessible, tailored, free and/or low-cost legal and legally-related information, advice and training.
2. To enhance the capacity and efficiency of the NFP sector by offering high quality legal and legally-related training and resources to those dealing with and providing services to NFP organisations and volunteers.
3. To become a specialist hub of NFP legal and legally-related knowledge and practice.
4. To engage in systemic advocacy and law reform in areas of relevance to the NFP sector.
5. To provide access to pro bono specialist legal advice for eligible NFP organisations via PILCH’s Public Interest Law Scheme.
Woodward says PILCH has been successful in obtaining part funding (over 3 years) for the new service from The William Buckland Foundation (administered by ANZ Trustees). The Victorian Law Foundation, which helped fund some of the feasibility research, has also just given a grant to assist with the design and development of the proposed NFP legal web portal. PILCH is are currently seeking government and corporate funding partners.
She says the ability of NFPs to access and pay for high quality legal assistance is very limited, particularly for the majority that are small and rely heavily on volunteers. It is also important to ensure that the often limited financial resources of NFPs are not diverted from core service delivery.
The overall aim of a specialist legal service for NFPs is to improve the capacity of NFPs to meet their legal obligations, be well-governed and, most importantly, be more effective service providers to the community. The service will ‘help the helpers’ – enhancing their contribution to the community.
PILCH is working towards a two-stage implementation process. Stage 1 centres on the development of a specialist NFP legal services web-portal with a range of other integrated services. These will include e-bulletin updates, fact sheets, frequently asked questions and precedents. Pro-active work, such as organisational ‘legal health checks’, will also be developed.
Stage 2 involves the addition of a telephone advice service staffed by in-house PILCH lawyers who will in turn receive support from PILCH members (via referrals, staff training and an expert panel).
Woodward says a range of possible funding sources is being considered. Given the innovative nature of the model, 3 year funding is needed so that robust evidence of the benefits can be obtained, thus enabling a more diversified funding base to be developed over time.
With philanthropic funding now committed, corporate and matching Victorian government funding is also being explored. In the medium-to-long term, this service model could be rolled-out across Australia, thus building the case for some federal government funding.
To download a copy of the report click here.