A SURVEY CONDUCTED by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre reveals that about $250 million-worth of work was undertaken on a pro bono basis by Australian solicitors in 2007. On average, this amounts to every solicitor giving one week per year of their time free of charge to the community.
The national survey covers 887 solicitors from all states and territories, from both small and top-tier firms, and lawyers in both city and regional practices. It covered a range of practice areas, ages and levels of seniority.
Some 90 per cent of those who undertook pro bono work in the past year said they undertook pro bono to help the disadvantaged, followed by 85 per cent who worked pro bono out of a sense of professional responsibility.
Commenting on the legal profession’s growing commitment to pro bono, director of the centre, John Corker, noted that enthusiasm for pro bono can be attributed to the positive impact it has on solicitors as well as the broader community.
“Pro bono makes sense. Not only does it provide disadvantaged individuals and the organisations that support them with access to justice, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences in a solicitor’s life. Almost every solicitor undertakes some form of pro bono work.”
According to Corker, one of the key themes that emerged from the survey is that solicitors undertaking pro bono need better support and recognition.
Corker said although the support and recognition for pro bono appears to have improved dramatically in recent years, firms can do more. Many respondents from large firms called for greater recognition of the valuable contribution of their pro bono work, not just in their performance appraisal, but by giving full credit for pro bono work in relation to their billable and financial targets.
The survey also revealed that 94 per cent of lawyers think solicitors should undertake more pro bono work, a figure that Corker is not surprised by.
“While thousands of solicitors generously give their time, bottom-line business concerns, heavy workloads and personal career considerations force some solicitors to eschew their professional obligation”.
In April 2007 the National Pro Bono Resource Centre launched the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target which established an aspirational target figure of at least 35 hours per year per lawyer for pro bono work. More than 3,000 lawyers are now covered by this target.