The APBC CEO has called pro bono work an “incredible opportunity” for in-house lawyers looking to expand their horizons.
As previously reported by Lawyers Weekly, the Australian Pro Bono Centre (APBC) has just released the 14th Annual Performance Report of the National Pro Bono Target (Target), which shows that Australian lawyers completed a “record-breaking” 641,966 hours of pro bono legal work in the 2021 financial year.
This, the centre proclaimed, is “by far” the highest number of pro bono hours ever reported by signatories to the Target, marking an increase of 16 per cent from FY20 and a 36 per cent increase from FY19.
In June of last year, APBC opened the National Pro Bono Target to law departments, setting a goal of at least 20 completed pro bono hours per lawyer. Ten in-house teams reported on their pro bono hours in FY21, across 69 FTE lawyers, with a total of 515 completed hours between them.
Three of the 10 in-house teams met or exceeded the Target, and seven said they expect to do so in FY22. Australian Pro Bono Centre CEO Gabriela Christian-Hare confirmed that the APBC expected even more in-house teams to sign up to the Target over FY22.
“We do expect some additional in-house teams and lawyers will meet or exceed the Target next year. FY21 was the very first year that the Target was open to these signatories, and some of the in-house teams and lawyers were only signed up for a few days or weeks before the end of the financial year,” she said.
“FY22 will give our in-house signatories more time to develop their pro bono programs. But we should remember that it takes most signatories a few years to meet the Target – this is a new frontier for in-house lawyers and we understand that it may take them some time to build their practices.”
Additionally, 17 individual in-house lawyers reported a total of 465.5 pro bono hours, with seven meeting or exceeding the Target and 16 expecting to next year.
As all of the in-house signatories signed up to the Target on or after 1 July 2020, the centre did not calculate the average hours conducted per lawyer “because of the distorting effect” that would result in signatories committing to the Target at different points in time.
To ensure more in-house lawyers meet or exceed the Target next year, Ms Christian-Hare recommended the APBC’s in-house portal and online resources.
“Whether they are already Target signatories or simply interested in developing their practices, in-house teams are also welcome to attend the centre’s roundtables and other fora for in-house lawyers,” she said.
Pro bono work enables in-house lawyers to broaden their skillset to areas of law they may not otherwise work in, as well as gives in-house lawyers the “opportunity to work with and learn from a range of lawyers across the profession, and develop additional client engagement skills,” Ms Christian-Hare added.
“Introducing pro bono work into the mix is an incredible opportunity for in-house teams to benefit from lawyers with a well-rounded set of professional skills. In-house lawyers have also noted how bonding it is to work with their in-house colleagues in a new context, where seniority levels seem to disappear, and team members all join forces in support of their community,” she said.
“At a time when corporations are increasingly being called out and pressure-tested by consumers, employees, and investors on their values and where they stand on important societal issues, pro bono legal involvement can certainly be an excellent channel through which organisations can be truly active in their support for the ‘S’ in ESG and can use their resources and influence to drive positive social change.”