Pro bono hours could improve

The panel (from left) Robert Reed, Rosslyn Monro, Rose Mackay, Elizabeth Shearer and Gabriela Christian-Hare. Photos: Geoff McLeod

While there has been an increase in pro bono legal work in Queensland, there is room for improvement says the CEO of Australian Pro Bono Centre Gabriela Christian-Hare.

Gabriela was part of a panel at Monday’s Queensland Law Society discussion, Supporting CLCs through Pro Bono WorkPro Bono: What, Why, When and How, along with Minter Ellison Special Counsel Robert Reed, Community Legal Centres Queensland Director Rosslyn Monro and LawRight Queensland Pro Bono Connect Director Rose Mackay.

QLS Access to Justice/Pro Bono Committee Chair Elizabeth Shearer facilitated the discussion on Monday, which had more than 160 attendees online and at Law Society House.

Gabriela spoke about the role of the national centre.

Gabriela told the audience that there had been a 48 per cent increase in pro bono hours across Australia since 2019, with more than 700,000 hours reported to the centre.

However Queensland has 16 per cent of all practising solicitors and contributes only 12.7 per cent of total pro bono hours.

“We would like to see an increase,” Gabriela said. “Queensland is tracking well but there is room for growth.”


The Australian Pro Bono Centre has set a target of 35 hours a year for law firms, individual solicitors and barristers, while there is a 20-hour target for in-house legal teams and individual in-house solicitors.

Robert, who manages Minter Ellison’s pro bono and community investment program, said the delivery of pro bono services in Queensland had become more structured after an ad hoc approach up until the late ’90s.

Robert said sharing knowledge was important.

“We are now approaching this advice in a co-ordinated and strategic way,” he said, having been involved in pro bono work for more than two decades.

“Back in those days, any work that we were doing to help those who needed it was not really being rewarded, wasn’t being recognised, wasn’t done in any sort of a strategic way. It was sort of whatever came across the desk.

“Whereas the growth of pro bono has seen a real focus on making sure that what we are doing is actually needing an unmet legal need.”


That need is still obvious, with Rosslyn saying community legal centres turned away more than 90,000 clients per year and that volunteer rosters, especially in regional areas, were vital.

“But for the volunteer work and pro bono hours, that intimidating number of people we would turn away would increase dramatically,” she said. “There is no doubt about that.”

Rose said more than 16,000 pro bono hours were donated to LawRight annually by 30 member firms with 65 student placements.

The value of pro bono work is being acknowledged with a new award at this year’s QLS Excellence in Law Awards. The Pro Bono Team of the Year Award recognises an outstanding team which is contributing to improving equal access to justice. Nominations, including the Access to Justice category, are currently open.

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