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Pro Bono in Australia

Monday, 25 July 2016 15:45 GMT

REUTERS/David Gray

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Australia has just been through a federal election and strong campaigns, “Legal Aid Matters” and “Fund Equal Justice”, called for increased legal assistance sector funding. These campaigns were supported by an open letter published in The Australian newspaper by leaders of pro bono practices at Australian law firms which called on governments to follow the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s 2015 Access to Justice report, and to increase funding to the legal assistance sector by A$200 million ($150 million) per year.

The pro bono leaders noted that their firms have little or no pro bono capacity to assist with family law, criminal law, immigration or with clients in regional Australia, and that the delivery of many pro bono services for low-income and disadvantaged people by the private legal profession requires a partnership or collaboration with legal assistance services.

New models of pro bono provision continue to emerge in Australia with a focus on greater collaboration between a number of agencies. Two of particular note are Health Justice Partnerships (HJPs) and the Collaborative Legal Service Delivery (CLSD) model in the state of New South Wales (NSW).

The number of HJPs is growing quickly in Australia. Those involved are pro bono lawyers from firms, Legal Aid Commissions, pro bono organisations, community legal centres and a range of medical organisations. The model is a healthcare delivery model integrating legal assistance as an important element of the healthcare team, and is leading to greater integration between lawyers, social workers and medical staff.

The CLSD program, started in 2004, is a regionally-based approach to legal service delivery based on the theory that better coordination and cooperation in the planning and delivery of legal services will improve access to justice for disadvantaged people. Each region of the state has a coalition of legal and non-legal service providers (usually including a large pro bono law firm) that form a referral network, and meet face-to-face quarterly to exchange information and to identify service delivery priorities.

Coordinated by Legal Aid NSW, CLSD has led to a more coordinated approach to referrals in regional areas, and notably has been accompanied by the opening of new Legal Aid offices in some regional centres.

Successful pro bono projects are often built on innovative ways of law firms and community organisations working together. Finding new ways to build capacity to address unmet legal need is at the heart of pro bono relationships.

There are many models of pro bono legal service delivery in Australia. Further information about these models can be found in Pro Bono Partnerships and Models, A Practical Guide to What Works published by the Australian Pro Bono Centre.

As to pro bono performance in Australia, further information will be available later in the year when the annual Pro Bono Aspirational Target report is released.