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Pro bono: Women stars pro bono stalwarts

Every Issue

Cite as: (2007) 81(7) LIJ, p. 89

The legal profession recently honoured women who have not only excelled in their profession but also in pro bono.

This year’s Women Lawyers Achievement Awards acknowledged the recipients for their work in furthering the interests of women in the profession, but also highlighted their significant pro bono contributions.

The three recipients honoured at the awards, Alexandra Richards QC, Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) executive director Paula O’Brien and Professor Jenny Morgan, have shown outstanding commitment to pro bono across the public and private legal sectors.

Ms Richards has had a highly distinguished career and a longstanding involvement in pro bono.

This includes work with Indigenous communities in Victoria and Queensland, specifically in the area of deadlock disputes within Indigenous land council corporations and in matters related to the abolition of ATSIC. She has also acted in numerous refugee and anti-discrimination cases, and on behalf of the Tenants Union of Victoria.

Ms Richards applies her advocacy skills as vigorously in pro bono as in her private practice.

In 2005, she was awarded the Law Institute of Victoria President’s Access to Justice Award.

At the Achievement Awards, Ms O’Brien was awarded the “Rising Star” Award. The award recognises the achievements of a woman lawyer in the comparatively early stages of her career.

Before taking up her current position at PILCH, she worked at commercial law firm Minter Ellison and lectured at the University of Melbourne. She was a founding board member of the Human Rights Law Resource Centre (HRLRC), Australia’s first specialist human rights legal service.

In her acceptance speech, Ms O’Brien described PILCH as “one of the loves of my life”.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have worked at PILCH which has always attracted an outstanding group of staff who are highly committed to improving access to justice for the many vulnerable people in our community,” she said.

From October, Ms O’Brien will begin her Master of Laws at Cambridge University as a Commonwealth Scholarship recipient.

“My plan is to come back to use the skills and knowledge I acquire in the access to justice sector. I suppose this may mean being involved in different parts of the profession in the future, but I have a continuing commitment to access to justice.”

Ms O’Brien said she has personally observed a growing awareness of pro bono.

“The ongoing growth of a pro bono culture in Victoria is something over the past four or five years that I’ve definitely noticed. It’s not static at all, knowledge about pro bono is increasing all the time.”

This year’s Women Lawyers Achievement Awards paid tribute to Prof Morgan for her support for women’s rights and justice.

She is a member and previous co-chair of the Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service and has extensive experience in victims’ issues.

A former Centre Against Sexual Assault House board chair, Prof Morgan is also a former member of the Court Network board.

She has sat on the Women’s Legal Service, Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service, the Royal Women’s Hospital and the VicHealth Advisory Panel on Community Attitudes to Violence Against Women Committees.

Prof Morgan is widely published in feminist legal theory, criminal and discrimination law and is the co-author of The Hidden Gender of Law.

The Women Lawyers Awards, which were held in May [see “Women legal leaders aim higher”, June LIJ, page 29], are designed to encourage female lawyers to excel in their chosen profession.

This year, they have shone a spotlight on women who have achieved both personal and professional goals through their engagement in pro bono, while also benefiting the community and promoting access to justice.

The message seems to be that the increasing number of women in the legal profession will lead to a positive flow-on effect for access to justice, and a bright future for pro bono.

VICTORIA LAW FOUNDATION (VLF) writer LAURA MACINTYRE contributed this column, which is coordinated by the VLF. For further information, contact the Pro Bono Secretariat via the VLF website

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 Dolphin Research Institute

Contact person Jeff Weir

Phone 5979 7100



Brief description of work of group

The Dolphin Research Institute has provided dolphin research and marine education and conservation services to the community on a not-for-profit basis for 15 years.

The Institute was set up in the 1980s by people who were concerned about the local dolphins and marine environment.

Twenty years later it is now a well-managed and sustainable not-for-profit conservation organisation.

Current needs of group

The Institute is accepting expressions of interest from people with business, governance, marketing and communications skills interestedin joining its board.

For more information about volunteering, visit


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