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Pro bono centre up and running

Every Issue

Cite as: (2002) 76(10) LIJ, p.80

A new pro bono resource centre is open to ideas as to the sorts of support it could provide.

Federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams launched the National Pro Bono Resource Centre at a national pro bono workshop held in Sydney on 15 August 2002.

The centre has been established with the aim of promoting the delivery of high quality pro bono legal services across Australia. It seeks to identify and overcome barriers faced by practitioners in providing pro bono work, and improve mechanisms for linking clients and communities in need with pro bono services. Its core budget will be met by a grant from the Commonwealth of $250,000 per annum. The Commonwealth has also met the centre’s establishment costs.

Established by a consortium of organisations led by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the centre is an independent national organisation, which shall be managed by a widely representative board. The interim board includes former NSW country practitioner and former Law Society president John North, the director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre Andrea Durbach and WA Law Society member Michael Cole. The board will include representatives from the National Association of Community Legal Centres, the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) and from Public Interest Law Clearing Houses (PILCHs). (There are PILCHs in Victoria, Queensland and NSW). The centre will also be supported by a broadly based advisory committee.

Former Northern Territory lawyer Gordon Renouf – who has considerable experience in access to justice, consumer and law reform issues – has been appointed as the centre’s inaugural director.

The centre will not duplicate the work of the numerous existing pro bono schemes, rather it intends to undertake activities that support the pro bono efforts of these schemes, as well as supporting firms and individual practitioners. In particular, the centre’s role does not include referring clients to appropriate pro bono service providers or in providing legal advice.

“There are plenty of lawyers currently providing pro bono services, both directly to the public and through various matching schemes. We intend to work to make pro bono easier for firms and more accessible to clients,” Mr Renouf said. “There are a number of obstacles to high quality pro bono – these include financial barriers such as filing fees, transcript and interpreter fees, limited access to expert support in areas where the pro bono lawyer is not a specialist, and concerns about legal or commercial conflicts of interest. The centre will be able to provide national coordination of efforts to address issues such as these.”

Promoting good practice in pro bono law is one aim of the centre. The 2001 Report of the National Pro Bono Task Force identified a demand from pro bono practitioners for a best practice handbook for managing pro bono law. Such a handbook would include practical “how to” advice for practitioners on issues such as promoting a pro bono culture, models of pro bono practice, risk management and quality assurance, budgeting and record keeping, the availability of expert support, disbursement assistance and fee waivers.

“There are many effective pro bono activities being undertaken in Australia and internationally. I hope the centre can identify and promote good ideas for improved pro bono practice,” Mr Renouf said.

Another key activity of the centre involves identifying ways in which communities or members of communities that have poor access to legal services can be matched with pro bono legal services. Mr Renouf was particularly interested in ways in which pro bono service providers could develop partnerships with disadvantaged communities so as to provide a broad range of assistance.

“We can’t get away from the fact that there are significant numbers of clients with meritorious cases in areas such as family law, criminal law and administrative law who do not have access to the advice or representation they need. But not every legal problem involves litigation and not every lawyer who wants to undertake pro bono work is a courtroom specialist. There are a whole range of skills possessed by lawyers that could be used to produce long-term improvements in the circumstances of disadvantaged communities,” Mr Renouf said.

The centre is currently recruiting two additional staff and hopes to attract a secondment from a law firm in the near future. It will also seek project funding from various sources in order to expand its activities.

There has already been significant discussion and consultation about the development of pro bono in Australia and the activities that could usefully be undertaken by the centre.

The National Pro Bono Resource Centre aims to build on this work through ongoing consultation with the profession and other relevant groups, and is currently finalising its work plans for the coming year. It is particularly interested to receive contributions from lawyers about the sorts of activities that it could undertake to enhance pro bono in Australia. Until established in its own premises, the centre is located in the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and can be contacted on 02 9299 7833 or by email at grenouf@piac.asn.au.

probonocolumn@liv.asn.au


NOTES

Contributed by GORDON RENOUF, director National Pro Bono Resource Centre, for Voluntas.

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