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Pro bono: Unsung heroes

Every Issue

Cite as: (2005) 79(4) LIJ, p. 68

The contribution of non-lawyers in firms and community legal centres is a crucial but often overlooked aspect of pro bono.

Delivering the best pro bono service requires a whole-of-firm commitment and many paralegals donate countless hours to pro bono.

This is despite the fact that they do n0t necessarily benefit from the professional development opportunities which pro bono offers lawyers, and that there is no particular ethical obligation on their profession to take part in such work. This “backroom” pro bono deserves recognition and applause.

With this in mind, the Victoria Law Foundation (VLF), in conjunction with the Institute of Legal Executives, chose to honour some of the most dedicated non-lawyer pro bono volunteers with the 2004 VLF Distinguished Pro Bono Service Awards.

At the Institute’s inaugural conference on 24 February, Justice Teague presented nine volunteers with the awards in recognition of their exceptional and longstanding commitment to pro bono.

The awards, inaugurated by the VLF in 2003, are a non-competitive, merit-based honour, intended to reward and encourage noteworthy contributions to pro bono throughout the legal sector. Each year focuses on a different aspect of pro bono and this time, firms and community legal centres (CLCs) were asked to nominate non-legal staff and volunteers with special dedication to pro bono.

Within firms non-legal assistance can take a variety of forms. Catherine McGuire from Baker & McKenzie and Lisa Grocott from Minter Ellison both administer their firm’s involvement in the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic (HPLC). They perform this work on top of their usual workloads and their participation extends far beyond fulfilling their responsibilities to their employers. Fellow award recipient Fiona Chapple, also from Baker & McKenzie, assumes responsibility for the HPLC’s intranet and newsletter and has played a pioneering role in her firm’s participation in pro bono.

Involving paralegals within firms in pro bono programs is advantageous to those who receive pro bono assistance and for the employers.

An holistic approach to pro bono encourages integration of a firm’s administrative and legal staff by ensuring that paralegals are not excluded from this important element of a firm’s activities. Perceived barriers between divisions of employees are diminished, fostering a shared sense of workplace philosophy and values.

Non-lawyers constitute a large and vital segment of CLC volunteers.

At the Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC), which nominated five volunteer staff for the awards, about 40 of their 80 regular volunteers are non-lawyers.

These paralegals provide invaluable administrative support, and often operate on the frontline, answering inquiries and conducting preliminary client interviews. They come from differing backgrounds and have diverse motivations for volunteering. Some do it because they eventually want to pursue careers in law or because they have an interest in social justice. Others are previous CLC clients who are keen to offer something in return for the help they received. Many volunteers just want to contribute something to their local community.

PCLC volunteer and education programs manager Andrea Florance describes the centre’s nominees as outstanding.

Elaine Pierson and Judy del Rio have between them contributed an extraordinary 52 years of volunteer work. Ms Pierson is a founding member of the PCLC and has volunteered as a paralegal and served as president of the management committee, while Judy del Rio has contributed as a paralegal and a translator, and has also served on the management committee.

Other award recipients have also demonstrated impressive energy and commitment. Conrad Smith from PILCH received an award, as did paralegals Jack Damschke, Sarah Hudson and Linda Taylor from the PCLC.

The nine recipients of the Distinguished Pro Bono Service Awards represent the broad non-lawyer volunteer base which offers so much support to the pro bono cause. Pro bono could not operate without them.

Looking to help?

To facilitate lawyers and firms becoming involved in pro bono work other than legal services, the LIJ will profile a community group and its needs each month.

Name of group Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service
Address 117 Johnston Street, Collingwood 3066
Contact person Alison Hill, development and communications manager
Ph 9419 5477, Email

Brief description of work of group
Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service is a community development organisation that seeks to build and promote a fair, just and caring society. We have a longstanding commitment to integrity and ethical service delivery to women, children, young people and families. Services are provided to people facing critical financial and social disadvantage and are based in the “high needs” areas of Collingwood, St Kilda, St Albans and Hastings.

Current needs of group
These needs include: help setting up a bequest program for supporters; mentors for women and adolescent mentoring programs; website design and implementation; intranet design and implementation; fundraising support; and sponsorship of events and campaigns.
If you are interested in assisting the Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service, contact Alison Hill on ph 9419 5477 or email

For more information about volunteering, visit

ELEANOR THOMAS is a law student, writer, and former intern at VLF, which coordinates this column. For further information contact the Pro Bono Secretariat via the VLF’s website


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