Walkers in Melbourne 2011
The fifth annual Walk for Justice will take place on National Pro Bono Day, Tuesday 15 May 2012, as part of Law Week. This year, Walks will be held in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle and Sydney and are a great way to not only support your local pro bono clearing house but also to meet like-minded practitioners, Chief Justices, Attorneys-General, community legal centre lawyers, law students and others.
The theme of this year’s Law Week is ‘Law and Justice in your community’, and a relaxing way to support law and justice in your community is by joining the Walk. National Pro Bono Day celebrates the pro bono contribution of legal practitioners to the community and is a reminder of the importance of the professional ethic that underpins it.
For more information on Walks in your state, including participation and sponsorship details, please follow the link relevant to you, or go to walkforjustice.org.au.
Centre launches socialneeds.net.au - The Social Needs Directory
socialneeds.net.au, a joint initiative of the Centre and the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), is an online database of key reports and submissions concerning social needs in Australia. The Directory was launched at the ACOSS 2012 National Conference on 29 March 2012 by Simon Schrapel, President of ACOSS.
This easily-navigable and searchable directory includes links to and descriptions of over 600 reports and submissions published since 2007. It can be searched via a number of fields including author, date, topic and also includes brief profile of the author that produced the report.
The Directory was initially developed by the Centre in 2010 only as a hard copy directory with a view to provide pro bono legal service providers with a research tool that could assist them in reviewing and developing their programs, and in prioritising limited resources to address unmet social needs. On the basis of feedback received the Centre decided to convert the report into an online directory and extend its scope. The Directory will be useful for anyone researching or seeking to address unmet social need in Australia, and provides advocates with a tool to help produce evidence-based reports and submissions.
Early feedback is heartening:
I wanted to congratulate you and all involved. We have spent a small fortune over the years having our librarian assemble and update the sort of information on Indigenous issues which you have collected and published. This is a brilliant initiative that will no doubt become the social policy equivalent of AustLII
Andrew Chalk, partner at Chalk and Fitzgerald
We encourage you to visit and bookmark: socialneeds.net.au and use this resource to be increasingly strategic in developing your pro bono programs.
NSW Law Firm Pro Bono Referral Directory goes National
The new National Law Firm Directory of pro bono programs and contacts, replaces the NSW Law Firm Directory started in 1998. This already included all national firms but in response to requests for other state firm contacts, has been expanded to include consenting firms from all States and Territories. The online database is password-protected but is automatically accessible by pro bono clearing houses, the law firms contained in the Directory, all community legal centres, and Legal Aid staff. Others may apply for access which will be granted only if it is for pro bono referral purposes.
Recently all firms in Australia with more than fifty FTE solicitors were approached to see if they wished their firm to be listed in the Directory. We welcome any firm who wishes to be included. The Directory indicates areas of focus (if any) of a firm’s pro bono practice, potential conflicts and eligibility criteria for referrals as well as full contact details for coordinators. We thank those firms that provided information for this resource.
To access the Directory please go here. To make changes to your firm’s entry or to be listed please email the Centre via email@example.com.
Victoria amends Legal Profession Act to facilitate in-house lawyer pro bono
The Legal Profession and Public Notaries Amendment Bill 2012 was passed by the Victorian Parliament on 27 March, and commenced operation on 2 May 2012. It amends the Legal Profession Act 2004 to remove restrictions that prevented holders of corporate practicing certificates from engaging in pro bono legal practice.
Until now, the practising certificates available to Victoria’s in-house lawyers limited them to providing legal advice to their employer only. Now, Victoria’s 2,700 in-house lawyers who work for businesses, governments or community organisations will be able to use their professional expertise to assist in addressing unmet legal need by doing pro bono legal work outside their workplace.
The amendments provide for practising certificates issued to corporate legal practitioners to contain a condition that entitles the holder to practice as a volunteer at a community legal centre or otherwise on a pro bono basis. The amendment also provides for the Legal Services Board (LSB) to approve the terms and conditions of the required professional indemnity insurance policy that must cover the practitioner’s pro bono work. The National Pro Bono Professional Indemnity Insurance Policy administered by the Centre has been suggested to the LSB as an appropriate policy.
The legislation followed lobbying by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre, the Public Interest Law Clearing House VIC (PILCH) ,the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) and DLA Piper that raised concerns about legislative barriers being the principal obstacle to in-house lawyers undertaking pro bono work in Victoria. Queensland and New South Wales have already lifted similar restrictions on corporate practising certificates and there are efforts underway to work towards similar reforms in other jurisdictions.
2012 Pro Bono Institute Annual Conference highlights the widening “justice chasm” in the US
This year’s annual PBI conference celebrated its 15th year with strong spirit against the backdrop of significant reduced funding for legal aid and the courts in the US. Colorado Legal Services Director Jonathan Asher outlined how Federal funding for legal services had dropped from a congressional appropriation of $404m two years ago to $348 m this year, and with state budgets in serious trouble and IOLTA (interest on lawyers trust accounts) funding almost at zero, he says they have never faced such a serious challenge, and have had to reduce staff numbers by about 5%. President of the PBI Esther Lardent refers to the effect of this as the ‘justice chasm’.
Preliminary figures from the PBI showed a 9.5% increase in pro bono hours for Law Firm ChallengeSM, firms since last year not quite returning to the peak performance of 2009.
About 350 delegates mainly from US law firms, in-house corporate legal departments and public interest organisations attended a three day conference that covered a range of sessions from master classes for the experienced law firm practitioners to such topical issues as leveraging technology to expand pro bono capacity, global pro bono best practice and creating strategic and sustainable partnerships. Executive Director of the Centre, John Corker was part of the Australian contingent that included lawyers from Ashurst Australia, Clayton Utz, DLA Piper and Freehills who, presented and shared the Australian experience throughout a number of sessions.
Also present at the conference was Peter Noble from Loddon Campaspe CLC who is researching the medical legal partnership movement in the US on a scholarship provided by the Clayton Utz Foundation. For more information about Advocacy Health Alliances in Australia and how you might support them see the Advocacy Health Alliances website and follow the blogs.
One of the most enjoyable sessions was the plenary on the last day titled, “Why do Lawyers Volunteer?” Recognising that lawyers taking on pro bono work through a law firm program are often not strictly volunteers but rather responding to a cultural expectation, the session was still useful to review why lawyers do pro bono and to refine key messages for different audiences.
The session was facilitated by Dr Larry Richard, a renowned expert on the psychological and sociological studies of lawyer’s behaviour and personalities. Most in the room could identify either personally and/or professionally with the traits identified consistently over time from law firm partners; higher than average scepticism, autonomy, urgency, analytical reasoning and resilience but lower than average traits of sociability and interpersonal sensitivity.
It was no surprise to hear that lawyers are motivated to volunteer by intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. The challenge for firms is to create conditions that make their lawyers feel good, proud and generous in doing the pro bono work rather than ‘incentivizing’ through providing rewards such as free coffee vouchers. An important note in this discussion was that billable credits for pro bono work, now used widely by Australian law firms with developed pro bono practices, should not be seen as an extrinsic reward but rather represent the removal of a barrier for lawyers who are already inclined to do pro bono work. Other useful tips included varying the recognition for lawyers doing great work making it unexpected or spontaneous rather than structured and predictable. Dr Richard suggested a simple test of whether the recognition feels commercialized. If it does it may not be very effective in engaging and motivating.
Overall this conference was as usual a well organised and highly constructive event providing new ideas and inspiration but reminding us that with the reduction in publicly funded legal services, it is more vital than ever that pro bono providers be strategic with their finite resources so as to maximise impact. To do this pro bono must be structured and integrated into the firm as a whole and carefully managed and evaluated. Videos of the opening plenary can be seen here online.
New free legal service for cases involving international child abduction
A new national service for Australian parents dealing with the abduction of their child was launched on 26 March 2012.
The new legal assistance service complements the existing counselling and mediation service provided by International Social Services (ISS) Australia. The process requires applying directly to the Attorney-General’s Department, as the Australian Central Authority for the Hague Convention. A useful summary of the process is provided in ‘About international parent child abduction’ on the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department website. Links to application forms can also be found there.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon highlighted the importance of the service in providing practical support to parents in distressing circumstances, especially as the Hague Convention on international child abduction, to which Australia is a signatory, may be difficult to access and understand for parents in such a stressful and difficult time in their lives.
For more information on International Social Service Australia’s International Parent Child Abduction service please click here. The Service can provide limited assistance with completing an application in the required form and lodgement with the appropriate authority, however the services of a lawyer may be required to assist in this process and is not covered by the funding.
The contact details for accessing the ISS service are 1300 657 843 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Note that this service is only applicable if the child has been taken to a Hague Convention country. Where this is not the case, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the relevant authority to contact.
Nominations now sought for 2012 Children’s Law Awards
Nominations for the 2012 Children’s Law Awards are now open! The Children’s Law Awards, presented by the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre and King & Wood Mallesons with the support of the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department, recognises the outstanding achievements and commitment of those individuals and organisations who advance the legal rights and interests of children and young people across Australia.
The event presents an opportunity to highlight the important legal issues confronting children and young people, and serve as a means to focus the Australian community on the need to continually promote and advocate for children’s rights. They also give public recognition and support to the work conducted by individuals and organisations to represent, advocate for, and raise awareness of children’s legal rights.
Nominations, which close on Friday 8 June 2012, are being sought in the following categories (for either an individual or an organisation):
- The National Award for Outstanding Legal Representation of the Rights and Interests of Children and Young People;
- The National Award for Outstanding Advocacy in Policy or Law Reform to Advance the Legal Rights and Interests of Children and Young People; and
- The National Award for Youth in Advancing the Legal Rights and Interests of Children and Young People.
The Nomination Form can be downloaded here.
The Awards will be presented in August 2012 at King & Wood Mallesons’ office in Melbourne. The Awards were first presented in 2002 and are now presented every two years, following on from the success of the 2010 Awards and reflecting the importance of the legal rights of children and young people across Australia.