Today's National Pro Bono Day marked the beginning of Law Week 2010, which started off with a Walk for Justice across the country by leading members of the legal profession.
Celebrating the pro bono commitment of the legal profession, National Pro Bono Day started with the five kilometre Walk for Justice, described by NSW Law Society president, Mary Macken, as a "who's who of lawyers on parade".
The Walk for Justice - now in its third year - took place in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide to raise awareness of the legal needs in the community and to raise funds to support the work of pro bono clearing houses. The Walk was attended by approximately 300 walkers in Sydney, 200 in Melbourne, 600 in Brisbane and 300 in Adelaide. Walkers around the country included Commonwealth and State Attorneys-General, judges, magistrates, lawyers from private firms, legal aid, pro bono clearing houses and community legal centres, law students and many others.
"National Pro Bono Day provides an opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to the profession. It was developed as part of National Law Week to highlight one of the key activities we as lawyers have to celebrate - our unselfish giving back to the communities in which we exist. It's a day when the legal profession should feel proud of their significant pro bono contribution," said director of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre (NPBRC), John Corker.
Although supportive of National Pro Bono Day, the Australian Law Students' Association (ALSA) reminded the Government that pro bono is not a substitute for an effective legal aid system and said that while it is important that access to justice is improved, the burden of doing so must be shared between both the public and private sectors.
"We want to create a culture within the legal industry that stimulates a sense of positive obligation in the individual," said ALSA vice president (education), Fiona Cunningham.
"By having both the legal aid and pro bono systems working effectively together, access to justice can be improved and we can help to positively improve public perception of lawyers and the legal industry. Entering into a profession with a good reputation and strong ethical focus is an important consideration for students looking to practice law."
ALSA also said while the number of pro bono hours performed per lawyer is on the increase, pro bono should be implemented as a complement to, rather than replacement of, legal aid.
The increasing commitment of Australian lawyers is evident in the latest figures. According to the latest survey of the legal profession by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian lawyers did over 950,000 hours of pro bono work in the 2007-2008 financial year.
And a survey conducted by the NPBRC, on the pro bono work of 25 large Australian firms, showed that these large firms contributed over 194,000 hours of pro bono work during the 2007-08 year - equal to over 3,700 hours per week.
"Australian lawyers have shown an increasing commitment to providing access to justice for disadvantaged and marginalised people...but it's not only lawyers who have a strong pro bono ethos - there's a real commitment among law students as well," Corker said.