Corporate legal teams can now become signatories to the National Pro Bono Target.
From 1 July 2020, in-house legal departments and government legal teams can become signatories to the National Pro Bono Target, allowing them to commit to “using their best endeavours” to achieve at least 20 hours of pro bono legal services per in-house lawyer per year.
The Australian Pro Bono Centre, which manages the national target, said it had decided on a “staged approach” for in-house legal teams, noting it will, in time, review whether the initial hourly target should be raised “to be aligned with other legal professionals” in the future.
“The 20-hour benchmark will provide an incentive for the growth of in-house pro bono legal services and takes into consideration the unique context for in-house legal professionals,” explained APBC CEO Gabriela Christian-Hare.
APBC is encouraging as many in-house legal teams as possible to join as signatories, outlining that in-house legal teams that lead by signing up to the target within the first 12 months – between now and the end of the 2021 financial year – will be listed on the target’s register as foundation in-house legal signatories.
“For corporations, pro bono work is an important component of responsible business practice. Signing up to the target presents them with a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves not just on commercial function but on values, and be truly active in their support for the ‘S’ in ‘[environmental social governance] (ESG)’,” said Ms Christian-Hare.
APBC chair Phillip Cornwell added: “The [target] provides a strong framework for any pro bono program. Although corporates and government entities may have an allowance for volunteering days, these are often limited and do not allow for meaningful engagement or, frankly, substantive progress. In-house legal departments which adopt the [target] can then enter into structured arrangements with community legal centres and the like, or alliances with law firm pro bono programs, which can make a real difference to the achievement of social justice objectives."
One corporate legal team that has already signed for the 1 July 2020 opening is LexisNexis, with the company’s Pacific-based head of legal Ali Dibbenhall calling pro bono work “critical” to ensuring access to justice, which she noted is one of the four pillars of the rule of law.
“At LexisNexis, we are exploring ways to leverage our unique skills and role in the legal community to support pro bono efforts across not only our [in-house] team, but our very talented legal experts, technologists and commercial specialists, as well as with our customers within the legal community,” Ms Dibbenhall proclaimed.
The announcement of the National Pro Bono Target opening up to in-house legal teams follows the establishment of the National Pro Bono Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme, which affords liability cover to in-house lawyers doing approved pro bono work.
It also opens the door, Ms Christian-Hare concluded, for corporate counsel to better contribute to the growth of pro bono work in Australia, in line with the work already done by law firm solicitors and barristers.
“There are now over 190 signatories to the [target] which have collectively reported almost 3.75 million hours of pro bono legal work since the [target] was launched by the [centre] in April 2007. The [centre] aspires to achieve similar success with other legal professionals,” she said.
“The [target] aims to raise the profile of every lawyer’s professional responsibility to improve access to justice, to work for the public good, and to highlight the shared nature of that responsibility across the legal profession.”