The Age‘s Julie Szego has written a substantial article in The Age about barristers and pro bono in Victoria. It arises out of Fiona McLeod SC volunteering her time to represent the Blue Wedges coalition which is opposing the Port of Melbourne’s channel deepening project. The Victorian Bar’s pro bono scheme, administered by Victoria’s cutting-edge one stop pro bono shop, the Public Interest Law Clearing House gets a mention, but another scheme, devised by the Bar recently, did not. That’s the duty barrister scheme where barristers agree to go to a particular court for a day and take whatever they are assigned for whoever needs them most.
Then The Australian has a story about the new Labor government’s contemplation of copying Victorian Attorney General Rob Hulls’s innovative method for getting the big end of town to do pro bono with alacrity. If Attorney-General Robert McLelland’s policy plan is to get big firms doing pro bono more equally and with more equal conviction than is presently the case, it’s a no brainer. It worked brilliantly in Melbourne. Now pro bono is totally mainstream, just another chapter in various business plans. It is so damned simple. The government gives you work, and you have to do pro bono in return. Don’t do it, you get dumped. The requirement is quite low — the lawyers have to do the equivalent of 5% of the fees billed in pro bono work — but the government has managed to convince the big firms’ board hardheads and executive bean counters that it’s serious about pro bono performance as a criterion for selecting lawyers, so that partners desperate to break into a prime government panel fall over themselves in what is sometimes a comically sudden enthusiasm for pro bono, and can even be convinced to sign up to contracts which require them to do multiples of the standard pay-back of 5%. In other words, the 5% minimum is just the beginning of how the program works. And the funny thing is, no one complains. It’s almost like they think this kind of economic muscle-flexing is kind of cool, a market solution which speaks the language of the ubercapitalists to be found making the tough decisions in big firms.
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- Costs recovery in pro bono cases in Victorian state courts: Part 1