According to the Final Report on the National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey 2010, the most common area of practice to complete pro bono work was employment law. 12 of the 29 firms to participate in the report worked on at least one pro bono employment law matter during the 2009-2010 financial year.
John Corker, director of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre – which compiled the report – cited a lack of government support in the employment area as one reason for the result. “Legal Aid funding for employment law matters is in many states limited, if not non-existent,” said Corker. However, while employment law was the most common area for pro-bono assistance, it was also the second most common practice area to have applications turned away by firms, with 41% of requests turned down.
Commercial agreements, such as leases, and Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) applications ranked second and third amongst the firms in terms of the most common pro bono matters worked on. “Obtaining DGR status from the Australian Tax Office is a complex process that can be vital for not-for-profit organisations to be able to receive tax deductible gifts and donations. Many do not have the resources or the expertise to prepare an application without expert legal assistance,” stated Corker. “Law reform is required to make the DGR application process much simpler so that limited pro bono resources can be better deployed in other areas of unmet need,” he added.
Demand for DGR applications remains high despite the amount of cases being undertaken by firms, with 34% of DGR applications turned down by firms. Human rights, government tenders and construction law were the cases least likely to be turned away by firms. According to the survey’s findings the main constraints to undertaking pro bono work applications were a firm’s capacity, followed by conflict of interest with fee paying clients and insufficient expertise in relevant areas of the law. Three firms, or 10% of respondents, indicated there were no constraints to doing pro bono work.
Key practice areas for pro bono work*
Employment law at 83%
DGR applications at 72%
Administrative/constitutional law at 72%
Debt at 69%
Consumer law at 69%
Incorporations at 66%
(*Areas of legal practice in which the highest number of firms surveyed provided pro bono services)
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