Australian lawyers at the top firms either met or exceeded their pro bono quotas, according to the Australian National Pro Bono Resource Centre (NPBRC), which involved an annual target of 35 hours per lawyer per year.
The target was reached by over half of the top 20 firms. Seventeen firms are signatories to the target. Among the recent additions to the group are Herbert Smith Freehills, King & Wood Mallesons, Holding Redlich and Gadens among the more recent additions.
The report found that 10 (59%) of the signatories met or exceeded the Target for the 2013-14 financial year.
It also revealed that a firm’s pro bono performance generally improved the longer it had been a signatory to the Target.
John Corker (pictured), director of NPBRC, told Lawyers Weekly that the findings prove that a Target is an effective device in encouraging uptake of pro bono work. However, he added that the Target’s success is not an endorsement for mandatory reporting.
Corker claimed that mandatory reporting can create a league table, which pits firms against each other rather than focusing on the spirit of pro bono, which is to “meet real legal need”.
Around 11,000 Australian lawyers are covered by the Target.
The bigger picture
Today also marks the release of NPBRC’s Biennial Pro Bono Survey results, which include responses from 40 of the 55 Australian firms with 50 or more lawyers.
The survey found the average number of pro bono hours per lawyer per year increased to 32, up from 29.9 in 2012 and 29 in 2010.
Large law firms continue to lead the way, with their lawyers performing an average of 41.3 pro bono hours this year; but mid-tiers and smaller firms are gaining ground, increasing their average pro bono hours per lawyer by 26 per cent and 15 per cent respectively since 2012.
Corker said that while there had been progress at the mid-tier level, many firms still need to develop their practice “in a more organised and proactive way”.
“In Australia, we have a very sophisticated pro bono movement, but there is a lot of capacity amongst firms to do more,” he said.
For the first time, firms were asked about the proportion of partners that participated in pro bono work. The average participation rate of partners was 40 per cent, well below the overall average of 50 per cent.