Published by the Australian Pro Bono Centre, the 10th annual performance report includes updated figures to monitor traction for the national aspirational target.
While the result is positive, the centre noted that the overall number of lawyers that law firms reported as having provided this service in FY2017 resulted in a decrease for the average number of pro bono hours per lawyer per annum.
In 2016, target signatories averaged 36 pro bono hours per lawyer per annum. The average hours dropped in 2017 to 35.7 per lawyer per annum.
The National Pro Bono Aspirational Target was established by the centre 10 years ago. Since that time Australian lawyers have reported over 2.86 million hours of pro bono work, the centre said.
John Corker, CEO of the centre, said that to mark the 10th anniversary of the target, the group is inviting comments on a new discussion paper.
Topics to be discussed include whether the definition of ‘pro bono legal service’ is still relevant, how well the target integrates with government legal purchasing arrangements from the private profession, and how more lawyers can be encouraged to support the target.
“While the target remains a driver of pro bono growth, this year we’re pausing to reflect, consolidate and consult to ensure that the target remains relevant as a benchmark of performance and a catalyst for further growth,” Mr Corker said.
Submissions will be accepted until the end of November.
Mr Corker also took the opportunity to thank that 40 foundation companies who signed on to the target in 2017. He said that if it were not for this group, many individuals and organisations would have been unable to access vital legal support.
“The development of the target community shows that pro bono has become an integral part of professional life for thousands of Australian lawyers. We are a better profession and a better society for it,” Mr Corker said.
According to the centre, target signatories represent 11,795 FTE legal professionals and include 24 of the 25 largest firms in Australia.
To become a signatory to the target, firms and organisations sign a statement of principles. The commitment includes an agreement to ensure that lawyers will undertake an average of a minimum of 35 hours of pro bono legal services each year.
According to the latest target report, Australian practitioners have dedicated an extra 4.5 per cent of their time in hours since FY2016 to provide pro bono legal services.
The total hours that were dedicated by lawyers in FY2017 sits at 420,195, equivalent to 233 lawyers providing full-time pro bono service over a 12-month period.
It is also a boost of 17,979 hours on the total hours reported in the previous year.