‘Desk-based’ pro bono projects an option for boutiques

By Jerome Doraisamy|23 January 2020
Gabriela Christian-Hare

In taking on whatever pro bono matters they can manage, lawyers in boutique practices should be aware of the “desk-based” options available in the modern marketplace.

In the evolving legal marketplace, pro bono work looks different to years gone by. No longer does it simply mean volunteering at a CLC or night clinic, as practitioners may have done in years gone by.

With the development of new apps and online platforms, Australian Pro Bono Centre CEO Gabriela Christian-Hare mused, legal practice has shifted and, correspondingly, pro bono undertakings have too.

For example, she told The Lawyers Weekly Show, lawyers working in boutique practices have a range of pro bono opportunities available to them, many of which are “desk based”.

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For example, there’s a lot of pro bono research [including in law reform] that’s undertaken, so it’s not always about going out and finding that time to see clients directly. With technological developments, it’s easier and easier to do this sort of work in a desk-based fashion,” Ms Christian-Hare explained.

“Also, with technological developments, we’re seeing pro bono work actually being triaged in much more sophisticated ways. For example, Justice Connect [has a] new gateway which is really transforming the way in which we receive pro bono work as well. So, its not always a case of having to physically go out and find the work or service clients, that you can most certainly do quite a bit remotely.”

Discovering new and improved ways of undertaking pro bono work is fundamental for lawyers in the boutique space, she argued, noting there are numerous reasons to be involved in such work.

“In Australia, there is an ethical professional obligation on lawyers to do pro bono work and, of course, that attaches to lawyers across the profession. But, beyond that, I think its just an important part of just being and working and giving back to the community, fully conscious that it is difficult to fit it in at times,” she outlined.

“We would encourage a proportion of time to be allocated to it so that its well contained and it really should be mixed in with fee-earning work so that its just a normal part of practice. Of course, there is a positive effect on brand, be it the brand of a law firm or the brand of a sole practitioner. But we do it because its the right thing to do. Its as simple as that.”

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It is up to each individual to find pro bono projects that work for them, Ms Christian-Hare said, adding that for those who might be concerned about the undertaking of such projects while trying to keep a boutique business afloat, it is okay to simply “do what you can”.

“Thats all we can do, and I fully appreciate – especially when youre running a small practice – its your own business and it can be tough,” she acknowledged.

“I think take on pro bono work where it really supports your fee-earning practice as well. It can lead to casework that provides a really good experience for fee-earning work.”

To listen to Jerome’s full conversation with Gabriela Christian-Hare, click below:

‘Desk-based’ pro bono projects an option for boutiques
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