There has been almost a 10 per cent increase in the average number of hours of pro bono work completed by lawyers in large law firms, according to the Australian Pro Bono Centre.
The Australian Bro Bono Centre has just released its Report on the Fifth National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey of Australian firms with 50 or more lawyers.
The report showed that lawyers in large law firms in Australia averaged 34.8 hours of pro bono work in 2016, an increase of 9.7 per cent from 2014.
According to the report, the growth in pro bono work can largely be attributed to firms which employ between 201 and 449 lawyers, where pro bono rose by 39.7 per cent on a per-lawyer basis to an average of 35.9 hours.
In addition, the report said that firms that employ between 50 and 220 lawyers also made up a high proportion of the growth, increasing pro bono work by 26.1 per cent on a per-lawyer basis to an average of 22.2 hours.
Meanwhile, in the seven largest firms in Australia – which employ more than 450 lawyers – pro bono performance remained generally stable at an average of 39.4 hours, the report said.
The report found that a key driver of the growth in pro bono work is the rising unmet legal needs of asylum seekers.
“Immigration in 2016 ranked third in the list of areas of law in which the most pro bono work was done, moving up from 12th in 2014,” the report said.
“Forty per cent of firms in the survey listed immigration in their top five areas of pro bono practice, up from 15 per cent in 2014.
“Notably, in 2016, several firms doing this work paid sums of more than $25,000 to cover interpreter’s and translator’s fees in these matters, there being no other option for the clients involved.”
Oppositely, the report noted that family law and criminal law have been the areas where requests for pro bono assistance are most often rejected by large firms – a trend that has been constant since 2008.
“In this report, the pro bono participation rate among lawyers in the respondent firms increased for the first time since 2010, with the average rate rising to 57 per cent of lawyers in the firm, up from 50 per cent in 2014,” the report noted.
“The participation of partners also rose from 40 per cent to 46 per cent. Seventeen of the firms met the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target of 35 hours per lawyer per annum, up from 12 firms meeting it in 2014.”
However, despite this growth, performance across the respondent firms is still strikingly uneven, according to John Corker, CEO of the Australian Pro Bono Centre.
“There is clearly room for a much stronger effort at several firms,” Mr Corker said.
“The survey allows firms to benchmark themselves against their peers, and firms are encouraged to do so.”