Issue 46: November 2008
Barristers National Survey Report released
Centre launches results of National Survey:
The National Pro Bono Resource Centre (the Centre) recently conducted a national survey on the pro bono legal work of individual Australian barristers, the report of which was published on Thursday 6 November 2008.
The survey collected data during December 2007-June 2008 from 355 barristers from all States and Territories, covering a range of practice areas, ages and levels of seniority, representing approximately 7% of all Australian barristers.
The survey results show an impressive commitment to pro bono, with 88% of respondents having done pro bono legal work in the last 12 months, but only 43% of respondents had done Legal Aid work in the previous 12 months. Survey respondents spent an average of 44.5 hours doing pro bono work last year, giving more than a week of their time for free, providing access to justice for the disadvantaged and marginalised. Fifty-nine percent of respondents undertook more than 35 hours of pro bono work a year, which is the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target.
The amount of pro bono seems to be on the rise, with 38% percent of respondents indicating an increase in the amount of pro bono legal work compared with the previous year. However, just over a third of respondents (34%) felt that they had reached their limit for doing pro bono, indicating that nothing could encourage them to do more.
Responses to questions about Legal Aid highlighted barristers’ disenchantment and frustration with the Legal Aid system, indicating that Legal Aid work has lost its appeal and isn’t considered to be a part of a lawyer’s responsibility to help those who wouldn’t otherwise get access to justice. Issues raised included inadequate government funding, low rates of fees paid generally, and denial of fees for preparation, conferences and other related activities.
The launch of this report completes the Centre’s two-year long project of surveying the pro bono legal work done by the Australian legal profession. The surveys have provided the first national picture of pro bono legal work being done across Australia, and all reports are available on the Centre’s website.
2008 NSW Justice Awards
In a packed NSW Parliament House dining room last Wednesday 29 October, the NSW Access to Justice Awards were presented and all of the nominees and their achievements were outstanding.
The strong ongoing relationship between the Arts Law Centre of Australia and DLA Phillips Fox received the prestigious Pro Bono Partnership award sponsored by the Centre and now in its fifth year. Recognition of the partnership ‘strengthening services to ensure (indigenous) artists’ access to justice and fair returns for their creative output’ was affirmed in this award. Both a telephone advice line and pro bono casework for indigenous and non-indigenous clients were recognised, as well as a large contribution to the “Artists in the Black” service (which) delivers legal services and resources to Indigenous artists and communities.
Ms Bernadette Allas of her founded firm BMA Lawyers, received the Law Society President’s Award for her work as a member of the Pro Bono Solicitor Panel for the NSW Law Society which she has done since 2003. Fluent in many languages and taking up law after retiring in teaching, Bernadette has ‘provided assistance in Immigration and Family Law, Child Care and Protection and Criminal matters’.
The Hon Justice Virginia Bell gave an inspiring speech about the fundamental importance of a fair trial in the criminal justice system by reflecting on the famous case of R v Tuckiar (1934) where a Yolngu man was saved from the death penalty by the High Court because the evidence was inadequate to prove that Tuckiar, an Aboriginal man, had speared a white policeman.
The Justice Medal was presented to Jane Sanders, who for more than 15 years, has been director of Shopfront Youth Legal Centre in Darlinghurst, a joint project of Mission Australia, the Salvation Army and Freehills. Jane is an advocate, activist, and author. She is an ‘advocate for the rights of young people’. She is ‘active in public education, policy and reform campaigns’ as well as the ‘Youth Justice Coalition and the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee’. Jane is ‘author of Youth Justice: Your Guide to Cops and Courts in NSW and the Children and Criminal Law sections of the Law Handbook and the Lawyers Practice Manual’. (Source: LJF site)
Retiring and transitioning lawyers project
As a Research Officer running a new six month project at the Centre, Sophie Grieve will be looking at ways to engage retired and transitioning lawyers in pro bono legal work.
“I always wanted to work in social justice but I knew that I needed experience first,” says Sophie, who spent a year as a practising solicitor in a mid-tier firm. “I worked in corporate law on trade marks and intellectual property, but felt that I wasn’t utilising my whole personality.”
Having spent some time in marketing, Sophie is thrilled to be in a role which makes use of her legal experience and allows her to interview pro bono providers and meet with people across the profession who can contribute in an active way to the pro bono community.
Australia does not have any pro bono programs which are aimed specifically at lawyers approaching retirement or those temporarily out of the workforce (such as lawyers taking a career break). The project objective is to research how to engage these lawyers in pro bono legal activities. Sophie has identified and is currently consulting with stakeholders such as pro bono directors from law firms, law societies, retired lawyers, transitional lawyers, Public Interest Clearing Houses and Community Legal Centres (CLC’s) around the country.
HOW YOU CAN BE INVOLVED
We are very keen to form a focus group with as many retiring lawyers/transitional lawyers, law firms, law societies, legal placement providers such as CLC’s, Public Interest Clearing Houses or any other interested parties around the country who would be keen to be involved with the project. If you are interested (or you know someone who is) in being part of this focus group or being involved in the project please contact Sophie Grieve of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre on firstname.lastname@example.org or 02 9385 7776. Thank you!
PilchConnect to launch in Victoria
On Wednesday 19 November, 2008 PILCH will be holding a cocktail event in Melbourne, to launch PilchConnect – the new specialist legal service providing free/low cost legal assistance for not-for-profit community organisations.
PilchConnect will focus on helping small-to-medium not-for-profits that would not otherwise have the resources or capacity to access legal help. Assistance to not-for-profit organisations will be provided on a range of common legal issues, including most appropriate organisational structure, taxation status, fundraising, insurance, employment and volunteer law, and governance issues, amongst many others.
One stop shopping for pro bono in QLD
QPILCH has recently been granted funding for a one-year pilot project to coordinate a broader range of pro bono referrals than those solely in the public interest.
Previously, the Queensland Law Society and the Bar Association made ad hoc referrals, but this new project will streamline the options so that any individual, not-for-profit organisation or other community legal centre in Queensland can contact QPILCH as the one-stop shop for pro bono referrals. This new scheme will help to increase the number of matters that can receive pro bono assistance, and will have only merits and means as criteria for assistance.
The scheme is modelled on the successful one which has been in operation through PILCH in Victoria for some time. The project has received funding through LPITAF (Legal Practitioners Interest on Trust Accounts Fund) and will employ a solicitor from January 2009.
Getting hooked on pro bono
As her six month secondment at the Kingsford Legal Centre (KLC) draws to a close, Lucinda Flanagan is already contemplating her return to the Centre on a voluntary basis.
“Tuesday and Thursday are advice nights and volunteer solicitors attend. Previous Freehills’ secondees have already come back and I might do that too,” says Flanagan.
The Centre isn’t her first experience of pro bono work. As a student, she attended the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre.
Flanagan says that the attraction of KLC is that it provides a good opportunity to further her understanding of the law, and it also provides a different perspective to her usual work. At Freehills, where she’s worked for over three years, she is part of the banking and finance department.
“KLC has a dedicated discrimination and employment service, so the secondee tends to deal with more general matters. Most of what I work on falls into the areas of credit and debt, victims’ compensation, and enduring powers of attorney or guardianship issues,” says Flanagan.
“A lot of my clients will have encountered life changing experiences, such as being diagnosed with a mental or physical illness or disability, and this often means that they can’t continue working. As a result, they have accumulated a large amount of debt and this can be quite distressing.
“I help them to see if the financial institution will waive the debt or agree to a repayment program that is affordable, negotiating with the institution and writing letters on their behalf.
“With victims’ compensation there are thresholds they need to jump over before they are entitled to compensation. We help them collect the relevant information and evidence. It’s a paper process,” says Flanagan.
“We see a lot of people who are getting on in their years planning for the future. Most people want to appoint adult children or a close family friend to be attorney or guardian, and we help people with the paperwork. There are strict obligations when you are advising someone on these matters. The solicitor has to satisfy themselves that the client has understood the documents. You have to go through them with a fine tooth comb.”
Flanagan has valued her time at KLC where she says she has much more responsibility and autonomy than a junior solicitor in a large law firm. “It is challenging and invigorating. You meet a wide variety of people and that’s refreshing.”
She’s also enjoyed getting to know the other solicitors and students. KLC is based on the University of NSW campus, and law students are able to undertake a course which involves them attending the Centre. All the files that Flanagan works on have a student assigned to them.
“I don’t feel like a student again, but it’s nice being back on a campus,” says Flanagan.
On the lookout for a pro bono opportunity
Jane Zurnamer is always on the look out for a pro bono opportunity. She can’t help herself.
During her legal studies, which she undertook at Macquarie University, she spent a semester at Melbourne University doing immigration law and international human rights law. So it seemed only natural that she should volunteer at the same time at the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre in Fitzroy.
Later, in New York, she interned at the New York Public Lawyers for the Public Interest – the US equivalent of PIAC.
And there was time spent at the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre in Sydney as a student and being the Volunteer Co-ordinator at the Aboriginal Legal Service once she had graduated.
“I’ve always had a strong interest in social justice,” says Zurnamer.
It’s no surprise then that, since the beginning of September, she has been appointed the part-time Pro Bono Co-ordinator for Minters in Sydney. Anton Hermann, based in Melbourne, is the firm’s National Pro Bono and Community Investment Director.
Since she started at Minters three years ago, Zurnamer has been involved in the firm’s community investment and pro bono programs, fitting it around her commercial practice. In fact, even before joining, the firm funded her last weeks with the Aboriginal Legal Service and her work on the inquiry into the death of Thomas Hickey, an Aboriginal boy who died while fleeing police pursuit.
“At Minters I’ve been working as a litigation lawyer in the corporate disputes area. When the firm offered me the chance to combine this with the formalised pro bono position, I jumped at the opportunity,” says Zurnamer. She’s looking forward to juggling both demands and integrating them.
“It’s great to have so much variety. I’m involved in two large matters at the moment and the pro bono work provides an excellent balance. I have one class action in the Federal Court and my other matter is in the Supreme Court, concerning trade practices, breach of contract and professional negligence issues.”
“I wanted to be in litigation because these skills are relevant to both commercial practice and public interest issues. I looked for experience in civil law and in court practice and procedure, and I feel that I am developing that base. I really enjoy and benefit from these professional experiences,” says Zurnamer, who believes that it is possible for both of her part-time roles to co-exist.
She sees her co-ordinator role as providing a structured pro bono program. “People want to be involved and you need to make the opportunity available for them. There is a great variation in our pro bono program, offering exposure to community organisation and practices, local court work, client contact and policy work across a broad range of areas.”
Zurnamer herself has worked since January 2006 at the Claymore Legal Counselling and Referral Centre near Macquarie Fields (the site of police and community disturbances three years ago) where four lawyers from the firm attend ever Thursday fortnight. Over 30 lawyers are also involved in the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service and Zurnamer coordinates and attends the Women and Girls’ Emergency Clinic run out of a shelter in the inner city suburb of Surry Hills.
“As well as debt, fines and other legal issues associated with homeless, domestic violence and victims’ compensation matters, you get issues raised here that are very particular to the inner city area. We do, for example, see a number of transgender clients.”
At the age of 27, Zurnamer has just embarked on her legal career. One can’t help but think that, wherever she ends up 10 or 20 years from now, pro bono will loom large.
Can pro bono really help the poor?
“At a time when poor people throughout the world are suffering so greatly, when the gap between rich and poor is so pronounced, and when the struggle for many is not quality of life but survival, it is tempting to view legal assistance as a luxury rather than a necessity,” says Skye Rose, Senior Policy & Project Manager, NPBRC.
However, speaking at UNSW in Making Poverty History (Oct 13-17), Rose claims that legal assistance has become a fundamental need of all people.
“For those that are deprived of common necessities that determine the quality of life, including food, clothing, and shelter, legal assistance can sometimes pave the way out of poverty. The key is ensuring that these people can access the system.”
Since funding constraints limit the availability of legal assistance through Legal Aid and other government funded services, Rose argues the importance of pro bono assistance in fighting poverty.
“Pro bono legal services are not a substitute for adequately funded public legal services but exist to bridge this gap between legal need and services delivered.”
Posing the question, ‘Can pro bono pave the way out of poverty?’, Rose looked at homelessness as a case study.
“The most common reasons for homelessness are: domestic and family violence; eviction; relationship/family breakdown; and, financial difficulty.
“Key areas in which lawyers can assist homeless people are debt, outstanding fines, victim’s compensation, housing and tenancy, personal injury, bankruptcy, discrimination, mental health, social security and problems with Centrelink, guardianship, and administration issues.
“In Australia, there a number of dedicated services that provide legal assistance to the homeless, including the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinics (HPLC). The HPLC model, which relies on pro bono lawyers, has been developed to address legal issues both on a case-by-case basis and also at a systemic level by engaging in education, law reform and policy initiatives.
“Although the causes of homelessness are complex and may include both structural and social factors, legal problems can often lead to or exacerbate homelessness. When legal issues are not addressed at an early stage, they compound to prevent the maintenance of stable or long-term accommodation.
“One such example is where a tenant accumulates fines for a series of minor offences, is increasingly finding it hard to meet maintenance obligations, defaults in rent payments and is threatened with eviction. Legal intervention can secure a waiver of the fines, create a reasonable maintenance payment arrangement and so secure long-term accommodation.”
However, Rose notes that: “The capacity of pro bono legal services to empower a homeless person will be limited if the root causes of a homeless person’s financial, personal and psychological disadvantage are not addressed.”
Rose also looked at the use of legal relief in times of natural disaster.
“Following Hurricane Katrina, more than 5,000 lawyers and students from all around America travelled to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to provide targeted pro bono relief to people affected by the natural disaster.
“It was here that major law firms, in-house legal departments and non-profits, and students worked together to assist survivors on a broad range of legal issues, particularly in relation to criminal defence and housing. When the levees broke, there were about 7,000 criminal defendants waiting to see a state-appointed lawyer.
“Immediately after the storm, the city gaoled roughly 5,000 of those defendants, many of them on tenuous legal grounds. The pro bono assistance provided by students to criminal defendants in the wake of the hurricane was critical in helping to determine the status of prisoners’ cases and minimising their time spent in custody.
“Pro bono lawyers also worked with residents left unemployed and without the capacity to pay rent. Thousands of tenants, including families, were evicted and had nowhere to go. The demands on public housing exploded and with a sudden surge in those unemployed as a result of the hurricane, crime increased exponentially. Through these pro bono lawyers, many residents were able to negotiate payment plans and were not evicted, thereby preventing their downward spiral into a life of homelessness.”
“Pro bono is anti-social and self-serving” says U.S. Judge
In his speech to the Rochester Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit talked about lawyers using public interest litigation to promote their own agendas, and using pro bono litigation for training and experience. He also argued the negative impact of two types of pro bono: litigation against governments and officials and so-called impact litigation. To read the full speech, click here.
When Buffy Gilbert was studying for her HSC, she was aiming for a law degree. “I wanted to be a lawyer from a really young age,
But even with that goal in her sights, it didn’t stop her from finding distractions. “Katie, my twin sister, and I invented girl bands –anything to take a break from study.”
When she finally made it to uni, Buffy didn’t find legal studies all she had hoped for, until she discovered family law and dispute resolution. “I really loved those courses and that’s where I want to end up. I want to be a practising solicitor in a boutique firm with a small number of people. Nothing too big or scary.”
In the meantime, Buffy has taken on the role of Administrator at the Centre, which she describes as: “A really good transitioning place. I like what the Centre stands for – law making a difference.”
Buffy takes over the role from Amanda Lennestaal who has become the UNSW Student Internship Coordinator, still based at the Centre. Internships fall into three areas: public interest, social justice, and journal.
The public interest internship program covers external placements with public interest organisations whereas the social justice internships are internal placements within law centres within the UNSW faculty of Law. These internship programs provide opportunities for students to gain training and practical experience in research, writing and advocacy on aspects of policy and practice.
The third program involves research, commissioning of articles, writing and editing for the Australian Journal of Human Rights, the Human Rights Defender or the Australian Indigenous Law Review.
“While the minimum requirement for an internship is 13 days, many students do more because they enjoy the involvement,” says Amanda.
A free MCLE session on the availability of Legal Aid in civil law and the law society’s pro bono scheme on 20 November 2008
Legal Aid NSW and the Law Society Pro Bono Scheme with Northern Rivers Cooperative Legal Services Program are presenting a MCLE session. For more details click here.
Pro Bono in the News – NOVEMBER 2008
Monash passport: the world is your campus (Monash University website, 6 October)
Legal Aid uproar: barristers would rather work for free (The Age, 7 October)
Refugee aid crisis (The Glebe, 8 October)
When the law provides no justice, call a reporter (The Brisbane Times, 10 October)
Lack of police response angers Mallard (Perth Now, 11 October)
Lion of Singaporean opposition (The Canberra Times, 10 October)
Fighting poverty (UNSW website, 9 October)
Bush signs controversial anti-piracy law (iTnews, 14 October)
Courts not open to poison milk compo (The Australian, 18 October)
Corrs key to landmark discrimination ruling (Lawyers Weekly online, 17 October)
Burch drops new political bombshells (The advocate, 17 October)
Law firm commits to Growing Together reconciliation action plan (National Indigenous Times, 16 October)
SA law firm launches Ugandan charity project (In-Business, 21 October)
Witness abused, court told (Brisbane Times, 24 October)
Another reprieve for Bali bombers (The Australian, 24 October)
Voyage to the darkest side for Mamdouh Habib (The Australian, 25 October)
Lawyers band together to act on animal cruelty cases (couriermail.com.au, 25 October)
‘Saint Jane’, tireless advocate for young in need (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 October)
Reba Meagher might testify in Ngo hearing (Sydney Morning Herald, 29 October)
Lawsuits tell a cautionary tale for bloggers (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 October)