APBC releases new guidance for pro bono work

27 April 2022 By Lauren Croft
Gabriela Christian-Hare

The Australian Pro Bono Centre has released its latest guidance, which is aimed at growing law firm pro bono work participation and sustaining their pro bono programs.

Released this week, the Template Pro Bono Questions for Use by Corporations in the Engagement of Law Firms is targeted at companies that use a tender process for selecting and engaging private law firms. The APBC recommends these questions be asked of law firms that are seeking to be selected as part of the tender process, whether it’s for inclusion on a company’s “panel” or “list” of preapproved law firms or in relation to a particular legal matter.

The Template Pro Bono Questions are focused on both the impact of the pro bono work undertaken and the involvement in that pro bono work by individual lawyers, in addition to opportunities for collaboration between the company and the law firm.

The focus on collaboration within these questions is likely to drive up pro bono work – both in law firms and their corporate clients’ in-house teams, according to Gabriela Christian-Hare, chief executive of the Australian Pro Bono Centre.

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“We know that the best way to grow and sustain a pro bono program within a law firm is if that program has the support and involvement of the firm’s leadership,” she said.

“The requirement to report to prospective clients on precisely who is involved in that work will be game-changing. Gone are the days where partners can simply have their junior lawyers take responsibility for the firm’s pro bono work.”

Corporations have been encouraged to ask law firms when they became a signatory to the National Pro Bono Target, if they met or exceeded the target in the last year, what their key areas of focus within the firm’s pro bono practice are, as well as what kinds of impacts the work is having on their pro bono clients.

The Template Pro Bono Questions were formulated by a working group comprised of senior leadership of the Australian Pro Bono Centre, the heads of pro bono at Clayton Utz Lawyers and King & Wood Mallesons, senior in-house counsel at Willis Towers Watson and Salesforce, and the president and immediate past president of the Association of Corporate Counsel Australia’s NSW Chapter.

Phillip Cornwell, chair of the APBC, said that the template would help both companies and law firms enter and respond to tender requests more efficiently.

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“I know from my experience in private practice that law firms can spend considerable time and resources responding to legal panel tender requests. This can be an inefficient process when questions covering substantially the same ground are asked in different ways and seeking subtly different information,” he said.

“These model questions on pro bono are not intended to deter clients from seeking information that is important to them, just to avoid wasteful minor differences.” 

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APBC releases new guidance for pro bono work
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