The references below are to “organisations” but the comments apply equally to individual in-house lawyers. For additional information on how to contribute as an individual lawyer please visit For Individual Solicitors and Barristers.
What types of projects and programs can I get involved in?
There are a number of well-established models for in-house corporate and government pro bono programs, although a program need not be limited to these:
individual projects – organisations can establish their own pro bono project. For example, Westpac’s in-house legal team provides pro bono legal assistance to a number of charities;
working with existing referral schemes or organisations – organisations can form a relationship with a referral scheme or organisation and agree to provide advice pursuant to referrals. For example, the Ramsay Healthcare in-house legal team takes referrals from the Cancer Council Legal Referral Service;
working with law firm pro bono programs – organisations can partner with a law firm to work on a pro bono project. For example, ANZ and Ashurst are working together to provide pro bono legal advice as part of Ashurst’s well-established Wills project; and
working with community legal centres – organisations can partner with a community legal centre to provide pro bono legal assistance. For example, there are numerous corporations who assist Arts Law Centre clients with pro bono legal advice.
For examples of Australian corporations that have developed in-house pro bono programs see the article, “In-house pro bono grows with more to come” in the March 2012 edition of the NSW Law Society Journal.
How do I establish a strong pro bono culture?
In order to establish a productive in-house pro bono program, an organisation must first cultivate a strong pro bono culture. Some key factors for the establishment of a strong pro bono culture include:
clearly communicated support for the program from the General Counsel and commercial leadership group (eg the CEO and CFO);
creating clear policies and procedures which outline the organisation’s commitment to and its expectations in relation to pro bono legal work, as part of the professional development of each lawyer; and
the provision of practical assistance by way of training, matter debriefs and other resources.
When establishing an in-house pro bono program, it is important to ensure that any relevant regulatory requirements are considered, in particular in relation to:
practising certificates; and
professional indemnity insurance.
The rules which govern the legal profession vary between the States and Territories. Therefore, it is necessary to consider the law of the relevant jurisdiction. Please note that in some jurisdictions government lawyers are not required to hold a practising certificate for their government work. Therefore, in order to undertake pro bono legal work it will be necessary for government lawyers to apply for a practising certificate, volunteer or otherwise.
For up to date information regarding practising certificates and professional indemnity insurance in your state or territory, please consult your Law Society or other regulatory authority in the relevant jurisdiction.
PROFESSIONAL INDEMNITY INSURANCE
Where an in-house lawyer or team partners with a pro bono referral scheme, organisation or community legal centre, it will likely be the case that the partner organisation’s professional indemnity insurance will cover the in-house team’s pro bono legal work.
For projects or programs that are not otherwise covered by professional indemnity insurance, the Centre operates the National Pro Bono Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme, which provides lawyers with free professional indemnity insurance for approved pro bono projects. Please visit the National Pro Bono Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme for more information on the availability of the Scheme in your jurisdiction and for examples of the projects that the Centre has previously approved.