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Pro bono/Social justice: Leading from the middle

Pro bono/Social justice: Leading from the middle

By Daniel Creasey & Millicent Allan


Six out of 10 firms in the mid-size band increased their pro bono hours by more than 20 per cent from the previous year. Australia’s mid-sized (and smaller-sized) law firms have been nudged for not pulling their weight when it comes to pro bono legal service. However, recent figures show that is changing and that many mid-sized firms are ramping up their efforts. According to the latest report on the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target, mid-sized firms collectively performed 133,835 hours of pro bono legal work last financial year 2015-16. Six out of 10 firms in this band increased their pro bono hours by more than 20 per cent from the previous year. Factors underpinning the rise of pro bono effort in mid-sized practices include the appointment of dedicated pro bono leaders, the movement of lawyers from firms with established pro bono practices to firms with emerging practices, the expansion of mid-sized firms, a growing appreciation of the business case for pro bono, as well as client and community requirements and expectations. To develop a leading and sustainable pro bono practice, firms need: top down support – a pro bono practice must be led from the top with strong backing from its senior leaders to appoint a senior leader to lead the practice a strong framework in which to operate including a pro bono policy with a corresponding strategic plan a solid communications plan to explain the purpose and importance of pro bono to recognise and reward lawyers for their efforts to build strong relationships with community partners including clearinghouses, community legal centres, legal aid, charities, non-profits and other firms support and guidance – lawyers involved in the program need ongoing training and support. The pro bono community is incredibly collaborative and knowledgeable. There is a range of resources available for all firms as they plan, develop and grow their pro bono practices. If you need support or assistance, just reach out. Daniel Creasey is head of pro bono and responsible business, Colin Biggers & Paisley. Family violence focus Snapshot The Royal Commission’s final report is available at Researcher Dr Karen Gelb observed court proceedings across Victoria. Her findings are in Volume Seven of the report. For information on applying for family violence intervention orders see The Royal Commission found the Magistrates’ Court is overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of family violence-related applications. Lawyers trying to find a quiet corner to advise their clients, victims being ushered through back doors and applicants crammed into waiting rooms alongside respondents. This scene will be familiar to many who frequent Victoria’s Magistrates’ Courts and something the Victorian government has resolved to address. The Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down its final report in March. Many of its recommendations pertain to the operation of the Magistrates’ Court, which has primary responsibility for the granting of family violence intervention orders. The Commission found that the Magistrates’ Court is overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of family violence-related applications. Issues include unevenness in magistrates’ understanding of family violence; an out-dated information technology system; deficient court infrastructure; dangerous delays; a lack of understanding of the court system and the effect of intervention orders by victims and perpetrators alike; and insufficient legal aid and support services. Key recommendations include that: within five years, all family violence matters be heard within specialist family violence courts the Court introduce an e-registry and online application forms more matters be dealt with ‘on the papers’ or by judicial registrars straightforward fine and traffic cases be shifted to other forums court design and facilities be modernised the Court take a more active role in the management of lists. The state government said that it will implement all the Commission’s recommendations. Its 2016-2017 budget included a $572 million package to improve Victoria’s response to family violence. This includes $58.1 million for court safety and security upgrades and $4.6 million for legal services such as legal aid. Millicent Allan is a trainee lawyer at the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office.

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