10/12/2008 - 22:00

Pro bono work standard practice

10/12/2008 - 22:00

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NAME any prominent not-for-profit organisation and it's likely some of the state's top law firms have offered them dozens of hours of service for free.

NATIONAL BEST-Anna Rakoczy has been named the Law Council Of Australia\'s young lawyer of the year

NAME any prominent not-for-profit organisation and it's likely some of the state's top law firms have offered them dozens of hours of service for free.

Offering pro bono work has been standard practice for many successful law firms over the years, but only in recent times has it shifted from the sporadic scattering of voluntary hours across a firm to a more structured approach and format.

While most law firms do pro bono legal work for disadvantaged or marginalised people, less than half undertake paid legal aid work, according to a survey by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre.

In the past year, $48.5 million of work was undertaken on a pro bono basis by 25 of Australia's largest law firms, delivering nearly 200,000 hours of free work during the year.

Leading the way is Perth lawyer Anna Rakoczy, who was recently named Australian Young Lawyer of the Year by the Law Council of Australia for her extensive pro bono work and overall contribution to the profession.

Ms Rakoczy, who works up to 16 hours most days, said she learned some years ago that her passion for community work would force her to lead a busy lifestyle and that accepting that would allow her to be a "happy busy person".

"I've always had a passion for being involved with youth-related issues or at-risk and disadvantaged youth," Ms Rakoczy said.

As a senior lawyer in Clayton Utz's Perth litigation and dispute resolution team, Ms Rakoczy also coordinates the Clayton Utz Community Connect committee.

Of recent significance has been the 28-year-old lawyer's involvement in the Australian Employment Covenant - an ambitious initiative led by the Australian Children's Trust, the federal government and industry partners, to break the cycles of welfare dependency and poverty in indigenous Australia.

During the past two-and-a-half years, Ms Rakoczy has been a committee member of True Blue Dreaming, a youth and community development program for those aged 12 to 18 and living in rural and remote communities.

She also works with the David Wirrpanda Foundation, which aims to improve the life outcomes of indigenous children.

Clayton Utz pro bono partner David Hillard said Ms Rakoczy represented the very best of what a lawyer should be.

"She is a valuable member of our litigation team and an asset both to the firm and the legal profession as a whole. We are immensely proud of Anna's achievements," he said.

Other examples of pro bono work in the state includes that by Perth-based Lavan Legal, which earlier this year began pursuing compensation claims on behalf of 1,000 members of the stolen generations, after signing an agreement with Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) of WA.

And in a controversial test case, Freehills partner Steven Penglis is representing two "former women" who are taking on the WA government to be officially recognised as men.

Four legal secretaries from the Perth office of law firm Allens Arthur Robinson are working pro bono with the ALS to process claims for compensation made by victims of abuse suffered while in state care.

Sarah Sutton, Elisa Hartman, Veronica Walsh and Joanne Huston are spending one day a week at the ALS in East Perth and provide secretarial and administrative support to the legal staff.

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