The head of the Pro Bono Resource Centre has called on mid-tier firms to work harder to promote a pro bono culture.
John Corker, the director of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre, said there was a "hole in the middle" with regard to pro bono work in Australia, with large firms devoting more hours to pro bono work than many of their mid sized rivals.
"Next year, I will be spending more time with mid-tier firms on how they can develop and improve and better manage their pro bono practices," Corker said
The head of the Pro Bono Resource Centre was speaking to Lawyers Weekly after the release of a survey earlier this month by the Resource Centre.
The survey sought responses from Australia's 39 law firms employing 50 or more lawyers, with 29 firms participating, including the six "top-tier" firms. Corker said that one notable finding of the survey was that larger firms fostered a pro bono culture more readily than many mid-tier firms.
"The obvious thing [from the survey] is the 'hole in the middle'," he said. "A lot of the mid-tier firms aren't doing much pro bono work at all."
The survey revealed that for the 2009-2010 financial year, the average amount of pro bono work done per lawyer across the 24 firms that were able to provide figures was 29 hours.
For the most recent survey, the median number of pro bono hours per lawyer was 27.6, up from 21 in 2008.
While that was still short of the National Aspirational Target of 35 hours annually per lawyer, it was a significant increase on the previous survey in 2008.
The survey revealed that 17 of the 27 firms with billable hours or financial targets gave full credit for pro bono work in meeting those targets, with 90 per cent of participant firms also recognising pro bono work in performance appraisals.
Of the 13 participant firms who are signatories to the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target, seven met or exceeded that target for the 2010 financial year. The survey showed that firms who had signed up to the target had a higher average amount of pro bono work per lawyer than participant firms who have not signed the target.
As of 30 June, 37 firms were signatories to the Aspirational Target.
The most common areas where firms provided pro bono advice was employment law (83%), deductible gift recipient applications (72%) and administrative / constitutional law (72%). Family law, excluding domestic violence (21%) and personal injury (17%), were amongst the lowest practice areas.
Corker said an encouraging feature of the report was the increased time firms were spending on international and regional pro bono initiatives. He also indicated that in 2011, the Resource Centre would seek to increase its involvement and use of mediation in pro bono services, with a number of mediators approaching the Centre to do pro bono work.