Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

Record number of pro bono hours delivered in FY23

The Australian Pro Bono Centre has published the 16th Annual Performance Report on the National Pro Bono Target, revealing more than 700,000 hours of completed pro bono work in the last 12 months.

user iconLauren Croft 27 September 2023 Big Law
expand image

In the 2023 financial year, signatories to the Centre’s Target completed a record 700,910 hours of pro bono work, reflecting a substantial increase of 8.58 per cent since FY22.

The report sets out the progress of the Australian legal profession in delivering pro bono services across the country, as measured against a range of indicators including pro bono hours undertaken and the number of lawyers covered by the Target on an annual basis.

Target signatories reported undertaking an average of 38.3 hours of pro bono legal services per lawyer in FY23, exceeding the Target of 35 hours. This is the second highest average reported in the last decade.


The last year also saw a substantial increase in the number of lawyers covered by the Target from 17,463 in 2022 to a record 18,731 lawyers in 2023. This year, the number of lawyers working in large firms (with 50 or more lawyers) grew by 1,090 to a total of 16,274 lawyers covered by the Target, with this group delivering an average of 37 pro bono hours per lawyer, an increase from 36.6 last year. There has also been a significant increase in large law firms meeting the Target – 47 per cent of large law firms met or exceeded the Target in FY23 compared to 39 per cent the previous year.

The Australian Pro Bono Centre CEO Gabriela Christian-Hare remarked that the overall increase in pro bono legal assistance reported by Target signatories indicates a strong and thriving pro bono sector, following year-on-year increases in the number of pro bono hours undertaken and the number of lawyers covered by the Target.

“FY2023 has been another record year. The strong results demonstrate that pro bono work has become firmly embedded across the Australian legal sector. There is broad recognition across the profession that providing access to advice, representation and better justice outcomes to those who cannot obtain Legal Aid or otherwise access the legal system is the professional responsibility of all lawyers.

“But the benefits of pro bono work to legal service providers are also well known – from providing greater purpose and meaning in lawyers’ working lives, to fostering creative and innovative problem solving, to enabling organisations delivering legal services to build a culture of social responsibility to attract and retain talented individuals committed to access to justice,” she said.

“There has been an upward trend in hours for many years across the law firm cohort and the importance and benefits of involvement are increasingly being recognised by colleagues at the bar. We now have three barristers’ chambers which have signed up to the Target, committing to help bridge the justice gap through pro bono.”

According to the report, solicitors and barristers volunteering in a personal capacity reported an average of 102 pro bono hours, compared to the 100.7 hours reported by this cohort in FY22. Small law firms (with fewer than 50 lawyers) reported strong growth with average pro bono hours per lawyer reaching 50.22, up from 42.3 hours.

Overall, 52.8 per cent of Target signatories met their respective pro bono targets this year, up from 47.3 per cent in FY22. This includes the newer category of in-house legal team signatories, introduced three years ago, who aspire to a target of 20 hours per lawyer per year.

For the first time, signatories were asked how many individuals performed dedicated pro bono roles – namely, how many lawyers were engaged with an expectation of spending at least 50 per cent of their ordinary working hours on pro bono matters. A total of 179 dedicated pro bono roles were reported by signatories. Notably, and reflecting the growth in structured pro bono legal practices in Australia, there were also 28 dedicated pro bono roles at the partner or principal level.

“The number of dedicated pro bono lawyers – including the prevalence of pro bono partners and principals, also demonstrates how formalised and ingrained pro bono practice has become in the working life of many law firms,” Ms Christian-Hare said.

“Appointing pro bono heads to partner helps to cement pro bono as a key practice area and gives these leaders greater authority and autonomy to direct their practices and participate in strategic decision-making. It also increases diversity of thought and experience within these partnerships.”

However, the profession’s commitment to pro bono is stronger in some Australian states and territories than others. Victorian lawyers once again provided the highest proportion of pro bono hours compared to the number of practising solicitors in that jurisdiction. By contrast, the report states that there is considerable room for growth in South Australia and Tasmania, where the pro bono ethos is less developed. Although Queensland lawyers’ pro bono hours have increased from 74,549 in FY22 to 83,800 in FY23, those hours are low compared to the size of the profession in that state.

Pro bono is so important because it ensures that thousands of individuals who face legal challenges but lack the financial means to pay for it can access the support they desperately need. This is important for the individual beneficiary but also promotes a more fair and equitable society,” Ms Christian-Hare added.

“I would like to see more barristers’ chambers, in-house legal teams from our largest corporates and government legal teams get involved and sign up to the Target. Pro bono is a demonstrable, powerful expression of the core values of our profession. It also has significant benefits for those who give it priority.”