With the majority of law firms dedicating their pro bono work towards organisations, rather than individuals, what sectors are seeing the greatest benefit?
The Australian Pro Bono Centre has released its seventh National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey, which examines the pro bono output of Australian firms with 50 or more lawyers.
Among the findings revealed was that over the 2020 financial year, on average, firms undertook 46.5 per cent of their pro bono legal work for individuals, versus 53.5 per cent for organisations. This is similar to 2018, where 47 per cent of firms undertook their pro bono legal work for individuals.
Looking into this further, the report also shed light on what areas of law and practice law firms provide the most pro bono assistance.
According to the results, 33 respondent firms chose the option “not-for-profit organisations and charities” in terms of where they concentrated their efforts.
This was followed by “other civil society/community organisations” (12); “Indigenous organisations, including Aboriginal Land Councils” (7); “Community legal centres” (7); and “social enterprises” (5).
Continuing on from this, the report also highlighted what areas of law and practice do law firms reject requests for assistance.
“The Survey asked firms to indicate the five areas of law or practice in which they rejected the most requests for assistance (for reasons other than means or merit),” it said.
“A high rate of rejections across firms tends to indicate a high level of unmet legal need. Reasons for rejecting requests for pro bono assistance can include: there is a conflict of interest; the matter falls outside the firm’s areas of focus or other policy guidelines; the firm lacks expertise in the relevant area of law, or; the firm lacks capacity to accept the matter.”
To determine the rejected areas, firms could select from 36 different areas of law, or they could answer “other” and specify an area not covered.
The area of law most rejected by respondent firms in 2020 was charity and deductible gift recipient (DGR) status applications with 11 nominations, followed by corporate law (including incorporations) with 10 nominations, governance with six nominations; and tax (other than DGR), also with six nominations.