Conditions ripe for pro bono work by sole practitioners

24 September 2020 By Jerome Doraisamy
Gabriela Christian-Hare

As Australia pivots to a post-pandemic landscape, undertaking pro bono work has never been easier for boutique lawyers, says the Australian Pro Bono Centre.

The Australian Pro Bono Centre (APBC) has this week released its “Guide for Individual Lawyers” to undertake pro bono work, detailing the various vocational and community options for sole practitioners and boutiques including but not limited to CLCs, not-for-profit organisations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, as well as the myriad personal and professional benefits from undertaking such work.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly following the release of that guide, APBC CEO Gabriela Christian-Hare said the “new normal” working conditions present real opportunities for sole practitioners and boutique firm leaders to up their games with pro bono work.

“The pandemic has made working from home and remote-working arrangements much more commonplace. As we have seen this year, our new mode of working is helping to reduce barriers to pro bono participation by opening up many more desk-based opportunities. It is hoped this will encourage more lawyers to become involved in pro bono work in a personal capacity,” she said.


“Many lawyers feel a deep sense of professional responsibility to use their skills in the public interest – even outside of a formal employment program, while on leave, upon retirement, or while managing a sole practice. They are also conscious that pro bono work provides an opportunity to develop new skills and sharpen others, and that the personal benefits of assisting other human beings in need and community organisations doing good work are immense.”

The release of the guide, and Ms Christian-Hare’s comments, come after the launch earlier this week by APBC of the 13th Annual Performance Report on the National Pro Bono Target (a benchmark of 35 hours of pro bono legal services per lawyer per year for signatories).

That report noted that, in the past financial year, Australian lawyers completed an average of 36.4 hours of pro bono work over the course of that 12-month period.

In total, Australian legal professionals undertook 551,427.5 hours of pro bono work in FY20, which marks a 16.5 per cent rise in pro bono hours compared to the previous year.

The average of 36.4 hours per lawyer for Target signatories is the highest average number of hours reported since 2011, APBC said, beating last year’s figure of 35.8 hours.

Lawyers Weekly Discover

The 31 individual lawyers (i.e. sole practitioners and barristers) who are Target signatories, however, completed an extraordinary 69.4 pro bono hours on average between them in the past year (slightly down from 70.6 hours last year).

Among those 31, 30 individuals met or exceeded the target of 35 hours, and 24 expect to meet it in FY21.

Conditions ripe for pro bono work by sole practitioners
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