Australia's large law firms are still committed to providing pro bono legal work, despite significant pressures associated with the economic downturn.
According to the Interim Report on the National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey launched today (25 August) by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre, large firms who are signatories to the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target completed more pro bono work than those who are not signatories, and firms generally increased their number of pro bono hours despite a drop in the number of fee earners.
"Pro bono work is not some passing fad. Australia's large law firms have demonstrated a real commitment to making the legal system accessible for those who cannot afford legal representation and who cannot obtain Legal Aid," said John Corker, Director of the Centre.
"Even while firms have had to tighten their belts, the amount of pro bono work which they are performing has continued to grow."
Twenty nine firms with more than 50 lawyers responded to the survey, including all of the large national firms, of which 24 provided data on pro bono hours per lawyer.
The results indicated that, on average, lawyers performed 29 hours of pro bono work during the 2009/10 financial year, though contributions varied greatly between the firms, with some firms averaging less than five hours per lawyer per year and others providing more than 70 hours per lawyer per year.
"That's equivalent to more than 178 lawyers working pro bono full-time for a year", said Corker.
"The firms that continue to make the most significant contributions have dedicated pro bono partners and pro bono coordinators in each office who help to ensure that a pro bono culture is fully integrated into the firm's practice."