AustLII Home | Databases | WorldLII | Search | Feedback

Alternative Law Journal

Alternative Law Journals (AltLJ)
You are here:  AustLII >> Databases >> Alternative Law Journal >> 2002 >> [2002] AltLawJl 58

Database Search | Name Search | Recent Articles | Noteup | LawCite | Author Info | Download | Help

Symons, Marie Louise --- "For the Public Good: Pro Bono and the Legal Profession in Australia edited by Christopher Amp and Kathy Laster" [2002] AltLawJl 58; (2002) 27(3) Alternative Law Journal 150


For the Public Good: Pro Bono and the Legal Profession in Australia

Edited by Christopher Arup and Kathy Laster; Law in Context journal, Volume 19. The Federation Press, 2001; $44 (indiv.), $55 (instit.).

I'd always assumed I knew what pro bono lawyering was. However, this collection of articles, enhanced my understanding of what pro bono is: how it is not just an exercise in charity or good will by lawyers alone; is not just for the public good; and has historical roots in Roman and medieval social practices.

If you're evenly vaguely interested in the bows and whys of pro bono and why you should be part of it, then you'll

find dipping into even one of these articles worthwhile.

This volume of articles, published as part of the Law in Context series, arose from papers presented at the First National Pro Bono Conference, convened by the Federal Attorney-General, Daryl Williams AM QC MP, in Canberra in March 2000. The book does not present all the proceedings of the conference, instead highlighting the key topics addressed and the strongest concerns expressed by those attending. This review only skims the contents.

Practical, tactical and ethical reasons to do pro bono -Pro Bono: Be in it!

Stephen Parker's three-pronged argument why lawyers should do pro bono work kicks off the book. It is a succinct, neat argument that appeals to the self-interest of lawyers (for instance, pro bono assists personal development) and their employers (increased job satisfaction of employee solicitors); tactically promotes a better image of the profession and concludes with a moral appeal to lawyers to remember their profession is a public one with rights and privileges attaching as well as concomitant obligations.

'A fearless pro bono culture is no doubt some time off'

Although a case for pro bono may be made out, sadly but truthfully, Bruce Moore proclaims towards the end of the collection that 'a fearless pro bono culture is no doubt some time off'. Moore is referring to the problem of perceived and actual conflicts of interest that firms, more commonly larger commercial firms, often have in acting for pro bono clients, because of concerns about how other clients of the firm may react.

This issue as well as how to deliver pro bono legal assistance in a commercially driven and increasingly more competitive legal services sector raises particular tensions which are explored further by other contributors. For instance, in a discussion about law clinics at university, the authors note, to my surprise, that legal study actually leads to a devaluing of the importance of public interest work (Les A. McCrimmon, p.93).

Balanced against the barriers to pro bono are some interesting survey findings that point to a continuing service orientation amongst young and older practising lawyers even after many years of practice; that is, an apparent preparedness to do pro bono work.

Perhaps supporting this finding are Francis Regan's observations about the experiences of Sweden and China, where pro bono is apparently flourishing.

However, the ultimate challenge is made by Andrea Durbach who questions whether any pro bono services actually impact on those who most need free, legal services. The book does not seek to answer this question.

More action!

With Durbach's gauntlet thrown down, it seems fitting that the book concludes with a Recommended Action Plan for National Coordination and Development of Pro Bono Legal Services. Two of the recommended actions were the establishment of an Australian Pro Bono Resource Centre and a further conference. I understand that plans are currently underway for the establishment of the Resource Centre and a workshop is likely to be held in conjunction with this for September 2002.


Marie-Louise Symons works as a copyright lawyer and business communications adviser.

AustLII: Copyright Policy | Disclaimers | Privacy Policy | Feedback