3 December 2014: Clayton Utz Pro Bono National Practice Group Leader  David Hillard welcomes the Productivity Commission's recommendations with respect to Pro Bono services and to reforming Legal Assistance Services, made in the Commission's final report into Access to Justice Arrangements.
The Productivity Commission has recognised that civil law matters "are the poor cousin in the legal assistance family" in Australia. Present funding arrangements for the Legal Assistance Sector are unsustainable, and additional funding of $200 million per year is required to address the most pressing civil law needs of Australia's most disadvantaged people.
"The Commission has shone the spotlight on just how difficult it is for low-income and disadvantaged people to access our legal system," Mr Hillard said. "Most Australians will be unable to use the law to resolve their problems or enforce their rights. The Commission estimates that only around 11 per cent of households are eligible to receive a grant of Legal Aid. In turn, the relatively small size of Community Legal Centres (CLCs), their lack of funding certainty, and their location based often on history rather than demographic evidence of economic and legal need, means that the CLC sector is less effective than it could be," he said.
Mr Hillard commended the Commission's recommendations that the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services develop more consistent eligibility principles for Legal Aid and CLCs and prioritise ensuring that the most disadvantaged have access to legal assistance.
"I am also pleased that the Productivity Commission has recognised that pro bono work is not a viable solution to addressing the level of unmet legal need in Australia. However, the Commission has identified practical steps which governments can take in order to facilitate how pro bono services can impact on access to civil justice and the resolution of civil disputes," said Mr Hillard.
Mr Hillard congratulated the Commission for its recommendations that governments across the country:
a) utilise the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target in their legal panel arrangements;
b) adopt the Victorian model of a pro bono co-ordinator to assist private firms in navigating potential conflicts of interest with government clients; and
c) replicate the Commonwealth's explicit panel arrangements that no firm undertaking pro bono work against government will be discriminated against when government allocates panel legal work.
"Many of the legal issues faced by low-income and disadvantaged people involve their interaction with a government department or agency," said Mr Hillard. "Governments can do a lot as purchasers of legal services to encourage their external lawyers to focus their pro bono efforts on access to justice for Australia's most disadvantaged people."
 Pro Bono at Clayton Utz: Clayton Utz is a foundation signatory to the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target. In 2013 Clayton Utz was recognised by Who's Who Legal as one of the "World's Ten Leading Law Firms for Pro Bono". In 2015, Clayton Utz will reach the milestone of 500,000 hours of pro bono work since our Pro Bono practice was established in 1997, the most pro bono hours conducted by any firm in Australia and any outside of the United States. [Back to article]