Relatively high numbers of lawyers are undertaking significant levels of pro bono work, according to the preliminary results of a national survey, but more need to take part in the survey to get definitive results.
The National Pro Bono Resource Centre’s (NPBRC) project officer, research and policy, Olivia Wellesley-Cole, said it was “heartening” to see that 58 per cent of respondents to the Queensland component of the survey had done more than 30 hours of pro bono work in the past 12 months.
Two to five fee earner firms recorded the highest number of respondents — 35 per cent — to the survey, and in total two-thirds of respondents were from one-office law firms, with 16 per cent of respondents from firms with more than 40 fee earners.
However, Wellesley-Cole stressed that only 225 Queensland lawyers responded to the survey, representing just 5 per cent of the number of lawyers in the state, so caution should be taken when drawing any conclusions. “Clearly we’d like more to respond.”
It was also difficult to make comparisons here or overseas. Wellesley-Cole is uncertain if any comparable surveys had been undertaken in Australia, and it was one of the most comprehensive of its kind conducted in Australia or overseas. “There is a lot of anecdotal evidence, but there is no real [data].”
“The intention [behind the survey] is very simple. To make known what the situation is, and address a need for reliable information about the amount of pro bono work being done by lawyers,” she said.
Surveys will be undertaken for the other states in the near future.
After the survey for individual lawyers is complete, the NPBRC will conduct two further surveys of law firms and barristers.
The Queensland survey gives some indication of firms’ approach to pro bono. Only 17 per cent of individual lawyers said their firm had a pro bono policy, and most said firms don’t include pro bono legal work in promotion, salary review, billable hours, meeting financial targets or performance appraisals.
But 26 per cent said their firm tracked their pro bono work and 96 per cent said their pro bono work was done with the knowledge of the firm.