FEDERAL Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has praised the legal profession’s commitment to delivering justice through pro bono work.
But, while both large firms and smaller firms make considerable contributions of pro bono work, more can be done by mid-tier firms in particular, according to National Pro Bono Resource Centre director John Corker.
Ruddock’s comments came at the recent launch of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre’s Best Practice Pro Bono Sessions, designed to assist firms develop and enhance their pro bono practices.
Lawyers often receive undeserved criticism, as critics do not acknowledge their invaluable contribution to pro bono work, said Ruddock. “Pro bono work is not something that goes on at the margins of the profession,” he said, “it is integral to the work of legal practices of all types.”
But, according to Corker, although six large firms stated in a submission to the Government last year that between them they had provided more than 75,000 hours of in-house pro bono legal assistance for clients who would otherwise have had no legal advice, smaller firms actually make a larger contribution.
An ABS survey of the profession in 2001/2002 showed that small firms are doing more pro bono per lawyer than large firms. Whether this is still the case should be established by a national survey of firms and lawyers that the Centre is currently undertaking.
Ruddock said pro bono work was important in ensuring Australia’s legal system is accessible to all, as well as making sure the law and the profession continue to be of service to the community.
But, according to Corker, the capacity exists across the whole profession to do more pro bono work. The sessions, which focus on mid-tier firms, look at ways to expand firms’ provision of the work. “We are working with government lawyers, in-house corporate lawyers and law students to facilitate, further and better pro bono.”
“The burden could be shared more evenly across the profession… [It is] good for business and is a good story for the profession and we want to make the most of every opportunity to tell it,” he said.
Corker made special mention, though, of Sparke Helmore and Ebsworth & Ebsworth, two medium sized firms that have high commitment to pro bono, he said.
The new Best Practice Pro Bono Sessions were devised recently with the support of pro bono coordinators and a number of firms that have agreed to host the sessions. A mixture of seminars and workshops, the sessions are intended to provide practical assistance on operating and managing a firm’s pro bono practice.
Corker urged firms to use the information from the sessions in their practice of law, “distribute it to other partners and encourage attendance at the sessions”.
The sessions will be held on the first Wednesday of each month starting this month and continuing through until December. The next session will be ‘Working with Community Legal Centres’, to be held in Sydney on April 6.
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