Law firms that provide legal services to the Commonwealth are
required to report their hours of pro bono work per lawyer in
FY2012. The amount of pro bono work performed by Australia's
largest law firms varies significantly, in data just released in
the Commonwealth's Legal Services Expenditure Report 2011-2012.
Now that pro bono performance is publicly available through the
Commonwealth's Legal Services Expenditure Report, firms will
inevitably be made accountable through questions from prospective
clients and recruits about how they measure up against their peers
and the wider profession's expectations.
The 24 largest Australian firms that reported to the
Commonwealth fell into three distinct bands of pro bono
Nine firms exceeded the National Pro Bono Resource Centre's
Aspirational Pro Bono Target figure of at least 35 hours of pro
bono work per lawyer a year. A further eight firms averaged between
15 and 34 pro bono hours per lawyer. Finally, seven of the largest
firms in the country averaged fewer than 10 hours of pro bono work
per lawyer last year.
The tables below demonstrate that significant pro bono
performance is not merely the consequence of the size of the firm.
It simply is not the case that the larger the firm, the greater the
capacity to deliver pro bono work.
Four firms with more than 100 partners did not meet the pro bono
target benchmark of 35 hours per lawyer a year, and three of those
firms were in the lowest band. Conversely, one of the leading pro
bono performers was from outside Australia's 10 largest
The wide range in average hours reported to the Commonwealth
does not reflect a different attitude to pro bono work by lawyers
at each firm. Lawyers at Australia's commercial firms have
consistently stated in national surveys they want to do pro bono
What does make the difference is the way that firms support this
desire to perform pro bono work. Signing on to the pro bono target
is a strong start. The target is in its sixth year, and there are
95 signatories to this voluntary benchmark, covering about 13
percent of the legal profession.
There are significant ways that firm management can ensure that
pro bono is a fundamental part of the culture, and is performed at
the highest levels. The leading pro bono firms have dedicated
professionals managing their pro bono practice and seeking out pro
bono opportunities. Pro bono work at these firms is no supplement
to a lawyer's core activities, but rather is integrated into
the firm's regular practice.
It is "real work", performed to commercial client
standards by lawyers at every level, and is lawyers at every level,
and is recognised as billable work for the purposes of performance
assessment, promotion and bonuses.
There is a vast unmet legal need in Australia, and pro bono work
is only one small part of the solution. However, as a profession,
Australia's larger law firms can do more as a cohort to step up
their pro bono contributions, and to at least meet the national
Inevitably, it will be the Australian community, as well as the
firms themselves, that benefit from our largest firms taking a
greater and more consistent response to pro bono work for
disadvantaged people and for the not-for-profit organisations that
support disadvantaged people.
Pro bono work at law firms
Law firms exceeding National Pro Bono
Pro bono hours per lawyer
Baker & McKenzie
Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Gillbert + Tobin
Herbert Smith Freehills
King & Wood Mallesons
Law firms with 15 to 34 average pro bono
Pro bono hours per lawyer
Allen & Overy
Henry Davis York
Lander & Rogers
Law firms with less than 10 average pro bono
First published in The Australian, 25 February 2013
Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide
commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon
as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular
transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin.
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