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Pro bono: One’s WIG is another’s paragon

Every Issue

Cite as: (2007) 81(6) LIJ, p. 87

Lawyers have no difficulty in coming up with a collective noun to describe those who do pro bono – the only problem is agreeing on which noun.

The National Pro Bono Resource Centre’s national survey of solicitors and their pro bono activity invited participants to suggest an imaginative collective noun for a group of pro bono solicitors.

Responses varied widely from the dry a non-billable unit, to the grand and glorious a symphony or irresistible force of pro bono lawyers.

It would seem many lawyers are quite proud of their pro bono work as a pride was the most common response, with one adding “like a fierce family of lions”.

This positive image of the legal profession also emerged from responses such as a paragon (model of excellence), a virtue and a legacy or the colloquial suggestion of a wearen’tallbastards of pro bono lawyers.

The idea of helping the poor and disadvantaged was evident with words such as a pathos, a sympathy and a dispauperment.

The idea of professional responsibility, selflessness and contributing to access to justice came through strongly with responses such as a justice, a privilege, an aspiration, a quintessence, an altruism, a conscience, an honour, a pledge and even a promise.

The link between pro bono and the Christian ethos of helping the less fortunate was evident with suggestions such as a samaritan, a congregation and a martyr and a leftish bias was detected in entries such as a commune, a proletariat and a collective of pro bono lawyers.

Making it clear that the profession’s contribution is a limited resource, a number of responses reflected the notion that there is too little pro bono.

These included a scarcity, a sprinkling, a ration, a drought, a paucity and a pittance. Whether these related to assertions that not enough lawyers undertake pro bono, or to the gap between need and supply, was not clear.

Either way, a considerable number of people apparently felt that there were too few lawyers involved in pro bono service delivery. But there were those who were more optimistic.

They suggested a plentiful supply through the use of words such as a plethora, a profusion, a flock, a bevy and a horde, perhaps reflecting the rise in the number and visibility of lawyers now doing pro bono.

There was some discussion among the competition judges as to whether those who suggested a herd were being positive about the increasing numbers and the common bond shared by pro bono practitioners or whether their selected noun might have been a less flattering aspersion about homogeneity.

The matter was unresolved but there was no doubt about the responses from those who emphasised the client-side of pro bono with words such as a godsend, a beneficium, and an appreciation.

Fighting together for the rights of the underdog or in the public interest was also a theme, with suggestions such as a champion, a posse, an army, a fraternity and a troop.

However, there was a sense that some teams of pro bono lawyers may be a little dishevelled or disorderly, as evidenced by responses such as a motley crew, a gaggle, a frazzle and a bohemia.

The concept of giving and charity was strong with responses such as a benevolence, a philanthropy, an aid, a gratuity, a gift, a gratis, a largesse, and a generosity.

But the “free” nature of pro bono was also commented on quite directly with the use of words like a free-go, a sponge, a freefall, a good deal and the rather cynical choice of a sucker. Fortunately, the respondent who suggested a slumber explained that it referred to pro bono lawyers sleeping well at night – not to those who sleep on the job.

The individual satisfaction of lawyers who undertake pro bono work was evident with responses such as a WIG (warm inner glow), a passion, a cuddle, a treasure and a smiley. Even so, the dark side was never far away with one suggesting a coven and many suggesting a murder.

As always, a lack of time to do pro bono work was commented on with a too much to do and a glass-half-full.

The learned judges, faced with all these wonderful responses, decided that the winners for the states where the survey has been completed should be:

VIC: a “WIG” (warm inner glow) of pro bono lawyers and a “dispauperment”;

NSW: a “paragon” of pro bono lawyers;

SA: an “altruism” of pro bono lawyers; and

WA: a “symphony” of pro bono lawyers.

The breadth of the English language and the creativity of lawyers offered some amusing and insightful ideas about why pro bono is undertaken, but also showed what the profession has to gain by celebrating pro bono and making it more visible.

National Pro Bono Resource Centre director JOHN CORKER contributed this column which is coordinated by the VICTORIA LAW FOUNDATION (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 depressioNet
Address 195 Drummond Street, Carlton
Contact person Jo Bidwell
Phone 9428 2229
Brief description of work of group
The purpose of depressioNet is to empower people to make informed choices and find solutions to the challenges of living with depression by providing the most comprehensive online resource for information, help and 24-hour peer support.

Current needs of group
depressioNet is looking for volunteer help in the areas of IT, law, fundraising and marketing.
For more information about volunteering, visit


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