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Aussie Lawyers Doing More Pro Bono Legal Work

6 October 2015 at 10:23 am
Ellie Cooper
Sixty per cent of mid-size Australian law firms have reported more than 20 per cent growth in the number of pro bono hours per lawyer over the last year, according to a new report.

Ellie Cooper | 6 October 2015 at 10:23 am


Aussie Lawyers Doing More Pro Bono Legal Work
6 October 2015 at 10:23 am

Sixty per cent of mid-size Australian law firms have reported more than 20 per cent growth in the number of pro bono hours per lawyer over the last year, according to a new report.

However, the eighth annual Performance Report on the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target found that firms with 450 or more lawyers continued to be the strongest pro bono performers, with seven of the nine largest firms in Australia having met or exceeded the target this year.

Only three out of the 10 mid-size reporting firms met or exceeded the target, and two mid-size firms decreased their performance by more than 20 per cent.

The report, prepared by the Australian Pro Bono (legal) Centre, provides a snapshot of pro bono legal work in Australia in the 2014-2015 financial year. The report is based on data provided by law firms, solicitors and barristers who have agreed to use their best efforts to achieve a target of 35 hours of pro bono legal work per lawyer, per year, and includes 19 of Australia’s 20 largest firms.

“Pro bono performance in the large firms is stable, with a few exceptions. In a tightening legal services market, it is a tribute to the dedication of these firms that they have maintained and grown their pro bono programs despite today’s competitive challenges,” Director of the Australian Pro Bono Centre, John Corker, said

“There continues to be an extraordinary range of pro bono work done to meet the legal needs of victims of domestic violence, the homeless, asylum seekers and refugees, newly arrived migrants, those with a disability, and many other marginalised groups, and to assist the organisations that support them.  Importantly, much of this work would not be possible without strong partnerships with well-run community organisations, in particular Community Legal Centres.”

The report indicates that over 11,000 Australian legal professionals are now covered by the target (up three per cent on last year). Those who reported (84 per cent) performed a total of 372,602 hours of pro bono legal work, which equates to 207 lawyers working full-time for one year, or an average 33.2 pro bono hours per lawyer per year.  

This was down slightly on the overall average of 34.2 pro bono hours per lawyer per year reported in the 2013-2014 financial year. In law firms, the average participation rate of lawyers in pro bono legal work remained steady at 64.4 per cent.

“With the target now in its ninth year, these results show that its influence as a tool to drive pro bono performance continues to grow. The fact that almost half of the target signatories either met or exceeded it in 2014-2015 demonstrates that the target remains well-positioned as a benchmark for the conduct of pro bono legal work across the entire Australian legal profession. It provides firms with a robust and achievable goal, encouraging them to support and develop their pro bono legal culture, practices and programs,” Corker said.

“It is also heartening to see the dedication of sole practitioners and small firms, who turned in some amazing results this year. One sole practitioner reported 650 pro bono hours for the year.”

However the report said the performance across the 77 reporting firms was still quite uneven.  

“There is clearly room for growth in pro bono legal work in a number of firms. These results will allow firms to benchmark themselves against their peers,” the report said.

“In firms that reported a significant drop in their pro bono work this year, the reason appears to be a lack of sustained coordination by a person who is skilled and adequately resourced to undertake the task. Unfortunately, experience shows that it can be quite difficult to rebuild a pro bono program once it’s been let go.”

The target was developed by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre, now the Australian Pro Bono Centre, in 2006.

The report can be downloaded here, together with a full list of the names of target signatories.

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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