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‘Pro bono is an excellent way for sole practitioners to contribute to their local community’

Post-pandemic, sole practitioners and barristers are increasingly aware of the benefits of pro bono work, this APBC report revealed.

user iconLauren Croft 07 October 2021 SME Law
Gabriela Christian-Hare
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As previously reported by Lawyers Weekly, the Australian Pro Bono Centre (APBC) has just released the 14th Annual Performance Report of the National Pro Bono Target (Target), which shows that Australian lawyers completed a “record-breaking” 641,966 hours of pro bono legal work in the 2021 financial year. 

This, the centre proclaimed, is “by far” the highest number of pro bono hours ever reported by signatories to the Target, marking an increase of 16 per cent from FY20 and a 36 per cent increase from FY19.

Additionally, the number of individual solicitors, sole practitioners and barristers who met or exceeded the Target greatly increased – from 20 to 42. Seventy individuals reported over 5,000 pro bono hours, for an average of 70.18 hours – up from 2,211 hours in FY20.


Following the release of the report, Australian Pro Bono Centre CEO Gabriela Christian-Hare said that it was “encouraging to see a significant groundswell of interest from individual solicitors and barristers committed to undertaking pro bono legal work”.

“Pro bono is an excellent way for sole practitioners to contribute to their local community, engage with interesting policy and law reform issues, diversify their CVs by developing skills in different areas of law, and learn from colleagues across the profession,” she said.

“Those who employ their unique skills and donate their time to support disadvantaged members of our community and the critical work of our community organisations also feel immense personal satisfaction.”

As conditions continue to be increasingly ripe for sole practitioners to undertake pro bono work, the number of individual signatories to the Target has more than doubled since last year – and Ms Christian-Hare said the centre had noticed a growing trend since the beginning of the pandemic.

“In part, the growing number of individual signatories to the Target simply reflects an increased awareness of the Target amongst that cohort. Some solicitors and barristers are now reporting to the centre on pro bono work that they were already regularly engaged in. Others are signing up to the Target because they are becoming increasingly aware of the level of pro bono work undertaken across the profession and want to do their bit for their local communities,” she said.

“However, the centre has observed that a growing number of sole practitioners (as well as barristers and other individual lawyers) are prioritising pro bono since the beginning of the pandemic, in particular.

“This no doubt reflects the sheer volume of legal need in our community as a direct result of the pandemic. In relation to sole practitioners, it’s also a function of a number of areas of pandemic-related work matching their skill sets including, for example, those who advise on employment law, property law, and credit and debt matters,” Ms Christian-Hare added.

As a group, more individual lawyers hit the Target than BigLaw or SME firms – which Ms Christian-Hare said there could be a number of reasons for.

“Depending on the circumstances of the individual sole practitioner, it may be easier for one committed individual to meet the 35-hour Target than for an entire firm to coordinate its pro bono practice to ensure the average hours per lawyer across the organisation do so,” she said.

“Many firms do a fantastic job of coordinating their pro bono practice and encouraging widespread engagement in pro bono – but engagement in pro bono at that scale has its challenges. It may take less time for individuals to meet or exceed the Target after becoming a signatory, whereas firms depending on their size and of course areas of practice may need additional time to grow their pro bono practices.”

Sixty-five individual signatories expect to meet the Target next year – and Ms Christian-Hare added that the best way to do this is for lawyers to find work they are passionate about.

“The best way for individual lawyer and barrister signatories to ensure they are regularly engaged in pro bono is to get involved in work they are passionate about, and to find volunteering opportunities that fit in with their other commitments.” 

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