Two top-tier Australian law firms have entered into trial partnerships with rural Queensland legal practices to help provide pro bono work in regional areas.
On Friday, Blake Dawson partner Tony Denholder and lawyer Luke Edney flew to the town of Emerald to sign a protocol for the project with their local partner, Anne Murray & Co.
Edney says the project is a great way to help law firms reach the national pro bono aspirational target of 35 hours per lawyer per year, while assisting Blake Dawson with its key target areas, such as Indigenous communities.
"It really helps us to tap into the areas where you are going to have groups that honestly have no way of getting assistance," he said.
The project is being facilitated by the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH).
Aimee McVeigh, co-ordinator of the project, said that while people in rural areas in Queensland, especially inland, have difficulty accessing free legal services, local firms and solicitors still wanted to provide pro bono assistance.
"We found [rural lawyers] would often provide a bit of pro bono assistance around criminal and family law matters - especially criminal, where it was a just matter of fronting up to court for an hour - they were happy to do that. But detailed civil assistance is a lot more difficult to come by," she said.
"So what the project sought to do was to overcome all those problems by tapping into that willingness that regional solicitors have to help their communities and provide them with the support of the large firms. So the regional firm would maintain the client relationship and carry on the legal matter and the large firm would be able to support them in doing the work."
Edney says Emerald is serviced by a small number of firms who are very busy and find it difficult to dedicate as much time to pro bono work as they would like.
"They are little things, but they end up taking a lot of resources, which is something a small firm might not be able to handle ... litigation matters, for example, where probates go wrong or where orders are issued against people [and] there is a reasonable prospect they might succeed [or] it's going to be a novel area of law that does deserve some attention, but would take the sort of resources of a large law firm like us," he said.
Allens Arthur Robinson is also a part of the trial project, having partnered with rural Townsville firm Lee Turnbull & Co.
The aim of the project is to develop a set of guidelines that can be used in the future to broker similar types of relationships.
Edney said the firms were acting as guinea pigs to iron out any problems in order to have the partnership protocol available publicly through QPILCH.
"QPILCH can then set up these relationships with any firm that wants to join - both in rural areas and in the city," he said.
"If a firm protocol can be created - or a bug-free protocol can be created - to get a lot of the other firms to take it then, ultimately ... it does have a great ability to help local groups in rural areas tap into quite a bit of national big firm expertise."
- Sarah Sharples