Baker & McKenzie Melbourne partner Ken Gray has been awarded the Law Institution of Victoria (LIV) President’s Pro Bono Award.
The annual LIV awards recognise excellence and outstanding achievements by legal practitioners, and are open to Victoria’s 14,200 lawyers.
Gary is head of the firm’s Banking and Finance practice in Australia, and the partner in charge of Baker & McKenzie’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Patients’ Legal Service. He was nominated for his extensive pro bono work with the Peter MacCallum Foundation (Peter Mac) and Infoxchange Australia.
In particular, Gray has been instrumental in lobbying the Government to change laws so that terminally ill patients can access their superannuation, insurance and other entitlements.
The Government introduced a new tax concession for terminally ill patients in September 2007. However, Gray said, the current definition of terminally ill remains problematic. “To allow the terminally ill a tax concession they had to define terminally ill, and they did consult on that and we put in a submission, but they came up with a definition that basically says two doctors have to certify that you are not going to live for more than 12 months.”
The difficulty of gaining consensus from two medical experts, as well as predicting the life expectancy of the terminally ill means that many people will still not be able to access their full superannuation entitlements, Gray said.
“The point we’ve always made is that superannuation is there for retirement and tax free to people in retirement, and we think for someone who is not going to live to 60 should get the money tax free to do what anybody in retirement would do with it.”
More broadly, Gray said, the success of the firm’s work with not-for-profit institutions such as Peter Mac bodes well for the development of pro bono in the legal sector.
“I guess the key evolution of it has been that, you know, the old-fashioned model was just to ship some young lawyers out to legal centres or respond to ad-hoc requests from other organisations, and we still do quite a lot of that. But where it’s evolved is to establish kind of stronger institutional relationships with organisations in the not-for-profit sector.”
The other key development has been the increased emphasis on professional management of pro bono services offered by the firm.
“Our pro bono clients get and deserve exactly the same level of service as our paying clients. Our pro bono clients are not second class clients who get attention when the lawyers have nothing else to do, it’s very important that they be treated in all respects as clients, so a lot of it is managing everything from client intake to making sure the lawyers have the right skills sets to do the particular sorts of work,” he said.
As for the accolade from the LIV, Gray said the award was appreciated but not as rewarding as the work itself.
“The point I make to most people is that we get actually a lot more out of doing pro bono work than we ever put into it.”