Australia: How Do I Establish a Pro Bono Program?

Last Updated: 5 June 2012
Article by Tony Holland

Before establishing a pro bono project it is important to consider the following:

Is there institutional support for pro bono within the legal team, and within the organisation generally?

If not, it will be important to address the lack of support before establishing a pro bono project.

At a minimum you will require the support of the lawyers who will be involved in the project. From a client service delivery perspective, it is important that the lawyers participating in the delivery of pro bono services are doing so voluntarily.

What skills exist in the legal team, and can those skills be matched to an identified legal need in the community?

Case Study: A multi-national IT/software company based in the Silicon Valley employs a large team of immigration lawyers to move employees between the company's various bases in the United States and India. The legal team has very deep expertise in immigration law and a passion for human rights and social justice. The legal team enters into a partnership with a peak refugee advocacy group which refers unrepresented asylum seekers to the legal team for advice and representation on a pro bono basis.

Case Study: A major chain of fast-food restaurants employs a legal team at its head office to deal mainly with property matters relating to its portfolio of commercial properties. A number of the legal team have previously worked in large commercial firms where they have participated in regular pro bono work through the firms' pro bono program. The lawyers draft a pro bono policy for the corporate legal team which proposes that each lawyer will be permitted to spend up to 3% of their time on pro bono matters. The policy is approved by the General Counsel. The corporate legal team join the Public Interest Law Clearing House and indicate a willingness to accept the referral of property law matters. Over the first 12 months the legal team are offered 10 referrals from the clearing house. Due to capacity constraints the legal team accepts six of the referrals. The matters referred include repossession matters where children were at risk of homelessness, and lease advices for charities and not-for-profit organisations.

Is there a legal need that could be met by up-skilling the legal team in an area relevant to pro bono practise?

Case Study: The General Counsel at an investment bank is a strong advocate of CSR and wants the legal team to be a role model for the rest of the bank in making a meaningful and positive, skills-based contribution to the community. He speaks to his legal staff and confirms their willingness to participate in pro bono work. He then contacts the Director of Pro Bono Services at a law firm that provides the bank with commercial advice and discusses pro bono partnering opportunities. After consulting with his legal team about the options suggested by the firm, the bank decides to partner with the law firm on a homeless persons' legal clinic, which operates at lunchtime on Fridays from a CBD homeless shelter. As part of the project, the law firm delivers training to the bank's lawyers on various aspects of poverty law, including housing, fines and small debt matters.

Case Study: A telecommunications company has a community program which focuses on supporting animal welfare. The legal team is asked by the company's CSR Director to consider ways that it could contribute to the company's community program. The lawyers believe that their contribution should be through pro bono, since there is a substantial unmet legal need in the community. The legal team meets with the Pro Bono Animal Law Service and indicates a willingness to accept referrals of pro bono matters. As a part of the project, the lawyers attend animal law conferences, join professional organisations, such as Lawyers for Animals, and are funded to participate in University animal law courses. The legal team develops substantial skills in this emerging area of the law and become recognised as experts in this field.


As is apparent from the case studies above, many successful pro bono projects are partnerships between in-house lawyers and law firms or community based organisations working at the coal-face that have direct access to people in need of legal assistance.

Collaboration is a key ingredient to undertaking successful pro bono work.


It is often the case that pro bono work requires a small financial investment in addition to an investment of time.

The types of expenses will include travel costs, disbursements on pro bono matters such as travel, copying costs, filing fees, etc. The costs will depend upon the nature of the project or the matters that you undertake.

Even though costs are likely to be minimal, it is important to understand the extent to which your organisation is able to provide funding to facilitate pro bono work. This may impact the types of matters that you are able to take on.


We have prepared a sample pro bono policy which may be used by in-house legal teams when establishing pro bono programs.

The policy may be used in its current form or amended to suit your individual needs. See Appendix 1 for the sample policy document.

Regulatory and Compliance Issues

When performing pro bono work in Australia, lawyers are required to comply with all regulations applicable to legal practice in their jurisdiction. The information on this page details some of the key compliance issues which must be considered prior to commencing work on a pro bono matter. The information contained below is not exhaustive, and practitioners engaging in pro bono should contact the author for further information.

Costs agreements

Although you will be acting on a pro bono basis, it is still important to enter into a retainer with the client which sets out the terms on which you will act. The retainer should make clear that no costs will be charged, except (where applicable) any third party disbursements. It is important to ensure the retainer complies with local requirements in your jurisdiction. It is also important to ensure the retainer is drafted in plain English and is explained to the client, so that they understand the terms on which you are acting.

A sample pro bono costs agreement is at Appendix 2. This document should be tailored to suit individual circumstances. In litigious matters, it may be appropriate to consider entering into a costs agreement that enables costs to be recovered from the unsuccessful party in the event of a costs order in favour of your client. The legal position with respect to pro bono costs in Australia is unsettled. As such, it is common for pro bono lawyers to enter into a conditional costs agreement with pro bono clients at the commencement of a litigious matter.

DLA Piper Australia is able to provide a precedent conditional costs agreement, on request. Please contact the author for further information. In the normal course, any costs recovered by DLA Piper Australia in pro bono matters are donated by DLA Piper Australia to charity. Some law firms and corporate legal teams use the costs recovered on pro bono matters to fund costs associated with the management of their pro bono programs. Your pro bono policy should deal with the question of how your organisation will deal with recovered costs, if you intend to provide pro bono services in litigious matters.

Amongst other things, the retainer should include details of the process by which a pro bono client may make a complaint against a lawyer. It is also advisable to set out the circumstances in which the lawyer may make a decision to cease to act.

Corresponding with pro bono clients

Communications with pro bono clients should be tailored to suit the client. Some pro bono clients will have limited English language skills, and plain English drafting, and face to face meetings to explain the content of written communications may be important.

It is also important to consider the most appropriate letterhead to use when sending communications on a pro bono matter. When considering this question it is often useful to begin by determining which entity is providing the legal services, and where the professional indemnity risk lies. If your in-house legal team is providing pro bono services under the National Pro Bono Insurance Scheme, then you should utilise the letterhead provided by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre, which is available on their website. In accordance with the National Pro Bono Policy, all work on pro bono matters should be supervised by a nominated senior legal practitioner. If the professional indemnity risk is carried by a community legal centre with whom you are partnering to provide pro bono legal services, then correspondence should be on the letterhead of the Legal Centre and approved by the Principal Solicitor of the Community Legal Centre. If you are partnering with a law firm, and the law firm is carrying the risk, then communications should be sent on the letterhead of the law firm, and approved by a partner of the firm. Some in-house legal teams have professional indemnity insurance in place which covers pro bono work performed by their legal team. In these circumstances it may be appropriate for correspondence to be delivered on the company letterhead.

Trust monies

Solicitors' trust accounts are subject to regulation, and any legal practitioner accepting monies must comply with relevant regulations in their jurisdiction. In most cases, it will be possible to deliver pro bono services without the need to deal with trust monies. In relation to projects where it may be necessary to accept monies on trust, it is advisable to consider a partnership with a law firm or Community Legal Centre.

Related Articles...

© DLA Piper

This publication is intended as a general overview and discussion of the subjects dealt with. It is not intended to be, and should not used as, a substitute for taking legal advice in any specific situation. DLA Piper Australia will accept no responsibility for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this publication.

DLA Piper Australia is part of DLA Piper, a global law firm, operating through various separate and distinct legal entities. For further information, please refer to

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.