15/05/2007 - 22:00

Not for profit: Lawyers to lift pro bono work

15/05/2007 - 22:00

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Western Australia’s legal community is preparing to increase its commitment to pro bono work following the introduction of a national voluntary initiative.

Western Australia’s legal community is preparing to increase its commitment to pro bono work following the introduction of a national voluntary initiative.

 

Last month, the Sydney-based National Pro Bono Resource Centre launched a pro bono ‘aspirational target’ for legal practitioners, calling for an annual commitment of 35 hours of work, per lawyer, in a bid to highlight the shared responsibility of lawyers to serve the community.

 

For Georgina Perry, pro bono co-ordinator at Allens Arthur Robinson, the national target will codify a principle that is already widely held in the profession.

 

“Fundamentally, it’s about professional responsibility,” she said.  “I also think a lot of the lawyers will enjoy the opportunity.”

 

Ms Perry said the current average per legal practitioner at Allens Arthur Robinson was between 30 and 35 hours pro bono work per year, with the new target requiring a slightly larger commitment.

 

Blake Dawson Waldron’s pro bono co-ordinator in Perth, Ian Murray, said signing up to the national target would increase the firm’s capacity to deliver pro bono work by setting a higher target for each lawyer.

 

He said it would also provide a bit of encouragement and competition between firms.

 

“I think it really opens up our scope for doing pro bono work,” Mr Murray said.

 

Meeting the target will involve an increase of about 30 per cent on the current rate.

 

He said the other priority for Perth firms was to increase their collaboration on pro bono work.

 

With this in mind, a group of WA firms will meet this week to discuss their pro bono work with community legal centres.

 

Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Freehills, Clayton Utz, Blake Dawson Waldron, Allens Arthur Robinson and DLA Phillips Fox Lawyers will hold a forum with several community legal centres to examine ways of improving coordination between the sectors.

 

DLA Phillips Fox Lawyers WA pro bono co-ordinator Emma Luck said it was important to enhance dialogue.

 

“My understanding is…there are barriers to pro bono referrals and not enough are occurring. There needs to be a greater understanding between community legal centres and law firms,” she said.

 

Ms Luck said it was important to communicate to community legal centres that firms had more to offer than simply providing free legal advice.

 

“We can think outside the box. For instance, we have extensive libraries available. We’re not just about individual case work,” she said.

 

DLA Phillips Fox established a formal policy on pro bono work in March last year, setting a target of 50 hours per employee, per year, and an institutional target of 3 per cent of total work.

 

The firm’s national pro bono director, Nicolas Patrick, said the target was chosen because it reflected the standard for attorneys in the US at the time, when the firm was establishing an alliance with global group DLA Piper.

 

Mr Patrick said the firm’s new policy had resulted in a five-fold increase in pro bono work this financial year, compared with 2005-06.

 

He said the firm had already undertaken a substantial pro bono work load when the policy was introduced, but formalising it enabled the program to grow.

 

“We also introduced free credit for pro bono work, so (lawyers) get hour-for-hour and dollar-for-dollar credit,” he said.

 

The firm also invested in its pro bono program, setting aside a dedicated amount in the budget that could be used for pro bono-related services, such as printing reports for not-for-profit clients.

 

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