Setting up a pro bono program at your University
If you are interested in setting up a pro bono program at your university, think seriously about Pro Bono Students Australia (PBSA). The PBSA project was developed by the Centre in conjunction with the University of Western Sydney Law School (UWS). It is based on the successful Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) program. The program combines education and public service, enabling law students to develop their legal skills and broaden their education while providing critical legal services to broad range of community organisations that are involved in delivering services to disadvantaged people. Its emphasis is on community service and is open to all but first year law students.
The Canadian Model
PBSC was established at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law in 1996 as a public interest organization dedicated to providing law students with hands on legal experience in public interest law, and communities in need with free legal information. Since that time, PBSC has grown into a national network of law schools and community organizations enabling law students who want to do pro bono work to volunteer with non-profit organizations, government agencies, courts and tribunals and lawyers working pro bono. The program has involved approximately 11,000 students from across Canada. Each year, approximately 2,000 students participate in PBSC programs at all 20 law schools across Canada.
The University of Western Sydney pilot
The success of PBSC prompted the Centre to establish a PBSA trial at UWS in May 2004. The program assists organisations that are involved in the delivery of services to the disadvantaged in the community of Western Sydney by matching law students with law-related projects that seek to enhance access to justice for disadvantaged individuals or groups. Student interest and involvement has been promising. Currently 34 students are placed on 17 projects. Feedback in relation to the projects from both community organisations and students has been incredibly positive.
The primary features of the PBSA program are as follows:
- The program matches law students in years two, three, four or five of their law degree with public interest and community organisations who are in need of ‘law related’ services.
- Each student is assigned a project that can be completed in three to eight hours work per week over one or two semesters (with breaks for exams)
- Each student is supervised either by a lawyer in the hosting organisation or by an academic staff member within the school of law.
- The placements introduce law students to the workings of the legal profession and provide them with the opportunity to meet, observe and work with organisations serving the public interest.
- The student must undertake the project without fee, reward or academic credit. The average commitment required of the student is 5-8 hours per week. This can be over a one or two semester period.
- The primary focus of the program is community service.
‘I encourage all students to take part in PBSA . It provides invaluable knowledge to young students who have not gained practical legal experience. Even students who already work in the legal industry will gain much from the altruistic experience of being able to help organisations that require pro bono legal assistance.’
Giancarlo Nalapo, UWS Law Student 2008
‘The flexibility of the program was remarkable in that it allowed me to continue to work and study. What was particularly rewarding about the placement was the sense that the work I was performing was directly helping people.’
Oscar Bem, UWS Law Student 2008
Establishing a PBSA Program
PBSA provides a relatively low-cost structured program which together with clinical legal education can help develop professional experience and values among law students. This may in turn assist, not only now but into the future as these law students become lawyers, in meeting the unmet demand for legal assistance for the low income, socially disadvantaged and marginalized persons in our community.
The Centre encourages Australian law schools and law student societies who might be interested in initiating such a program to obtain the PBSA precedents from the Centre, and to discuss ways in which the program might be introduced at their school. Through this process a school plan for introduction of the program may be developed.
Templates and agreements
Law schools interested in initiating a PBSA program can obtain templates of all relevant documents and agreements by contacting the National Pro Bono Resource Centre. For more information, contact the Centre on (02) 9385 7381 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The conference paper How does PBSA fit with Clinical Legal Education in Australia? provides further information on the experience of UWS with the PBSA program.
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