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On the Radar: Pro Bono – Advancing the Community, Advancing our Lawyers

Pro bono – advancing the community, advancing our lawyers
David Hillard, Partner and Kezia Adams, Senior Associate

Representing a single mother in a special circumstances application in the Magistrates’ Court.

Running a Supreme Court case for an elderly parent to protect her home from a deceptive sale by her children.

Helping an retirement village resident claim back thousands of dollars in overpayments.

This is not the type of work that necessarily comes to mind when considering employment with a leading commercial law firm. Yet at Clayton Utz, pro bono work is not just something we talk about, it is an integral part of the role that all our lawyers play in supporting access to justice. It also makes us better and more empathetic lawyers, with stronger legal skills.

Clayton Utz has helped shape what best practice in pro bono looks like and we have been named twice as one of the ten leading pro bono firms in the world in the Who’s Who Legal Global Pro Bono Survey. In 1997 Clayton Utz established the first in-house Pro Bono practice at a national firm. Since then, our Pro Bono practice has grown to be the largest anywhere outside the United States. In 2015 we became the first law firm in Australia to provide 500,000 hours of pro bono assistance (and counting).

In the 20th year of our pro bono practice, we continue to expand what we can do for low-income clients who cannot secure Legal Aid and for the not-for-profit organisations which support them.

Clayton Utz is different. From your first day as a graduate right through to making partnership and beyond, you are expected to make pro bono work part of your practice. Each of our lawyers, at all stages of their career, is expected to provide a minimum of 40 hours of pro bono work each year. Across the firm, we average much more than this number.

Why have we done this? Firstly, our firm understands the value of pro bono work to the community and the impact which we can have for our pro bono clients. It is about making people’s rights mean something. It is about helping community organisations and charities get on with their vital work. It is about protecting women and kids from domestic violence. It is about lifting people out of disadvantage. It is about fixing injustice.

Secondly, our lawyers are excellent at what they do and have advanced legal skills to enable our firm to represent clients in difficult and technical matters.

Thirdly, our lawyers recognise that being a lawyer is a privilege and that we have an inherent responsibility to use our education and training to assist those in need who cannot otherwise access the legal system.

And fourthly, we treat our pro bono work as real work – it is managed with the same high level of care and skill as our commercial matters, and is recognised as such in the assessment of every lawyer’s performance.

Our Partners recognise that pro bono work is particularly important to grow our junior lawyers and to enable them to “get their hands dirty” on legal issues which make a difference to our community. Being a part of Justice Connect’s Homeless Law service provides junior lawyers some of their first opportunities to have carriage of a file, including interviewing clients, taking instructions, drafting court documentation and representing clients at mediation or before the court. All of the work is supervised, but you will have responsibility for your clients right from the beginning.

Twenty years of Pro Bono practice has shaped who we are, and helped to change what it means to be a successful law firm in Australia. Over that time, we have exposed thousands of lawyers to the idea that pro bono work is an inherent part of every lawyer’s professional responsibility, regardless of their seniority or where they work. We are proud of our leadership and what has been achieved for clients who might otherwise have been left behind.

Pro Bono practice is a fundamental part of being a lawyer at Clayton Utz. Make sure it is fundamental to whichever law firm you choose to start your career.

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