KNOWLEDGE CENTRE

Queensland Law Firms – step up your pro bono game!

Queensland Law Firms – step up your pro bono game!

Law firms across Australia are taking up pro bono work at unprecedented levels – but is it enough?

The 2018 National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey found an 18% overall rise in pro bono staff and a growing trend towards commitment and investment in pro bono legal work. We looked into one major factor causing this phenomenal rise.

The Queensland Government has created strong incentives for law firms to go above and beyond their current commitments to pro bono work1. It recently mandated that it will only outsource legal work from law firms that meet their annual National Pro Bono Aspirational Target through the Australian Pro Bono Centre2.

This has already had a huge impact on the State’s legal industry, with $30 million being spent by the Government on outsourced legal work every year3.

Law firms currently outsourced by the Government (the Panel) not only have to meet the Target, they might be suspended from the Panel and have their contracts terminated if they do not meet or exceed the conditions of the Target. A number of top tier law firms have failed to do so, risking valuable work and their relationships with Government departments.

Lawyers Weekly interviewed CEO of Australian Pro Bono Centre, Gabriela Christian-Hare, who said the Centre has been pushing for this across the board.

“The Target has had very good take-up [172 firms are signatories as of the time of speaking with Lawyers Weekly]. But, to help cement its place as a key lever in the legal services market, we have been encouraging major purchasers of legal services, including governments and corporations, to insist that panel firms sign up to the Target and use their best efforts to achieve it.”

This could mean that corporations engaging law firms are likely to follow suit and demand their lawyers to step up their pro bono commitments. Changes like this highlight how important it is for law firms to align their values with governments and with the corporate sector, both of which increasingly value ethical governance and social responsibility.

Pro bono performance of the Panel is measured by KPIs. This year’s application round has now closed, but law firms responding to a future tender should put their best foot forward by committing to the Target in order to be seriously considered.

The Target has had an important influence on the level of contribution of pro bono legal work among firms not only in Queensland but among other state Panels participating in external legal services.

At this rate, the future of the legal industry will see more lawyers doing community service work, sitting on boards or social enterprise panels, and offering substantially reduced fees for charitable organisations and public interest clients.

1 Australian Pro Bono Centre Annual Report
2 Will any firms lose their QLD government contracts for not meeting pro bono targets?
3 Department of Justice and Attorney-General - Whole-of-government legal services panel