ACC letter outlines opportunities for in-house lawyers in SA to offer pro bono services

The association requested the amendment of rules regarding in-house lawyers' freedom to provide such services

ACC letter outlines opportunities for in-house lawyers in SA to offer pro bono services

A letter written by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Australia to the SA Law Society has outlined opportunities for in-house lawyers in SA to be able to offer more pro bono services.

“There is a strong desire within the South Australian in-house legal community to better engage in volunteer legal services, as in-house lawyers do in other jurisdictions. In addition to responding to their professional obligation, in-house lawyers within companies want to use their legal skills to contribute to their communities on a pro bono basis”, explained Damien Harby, who presides over the SA division of the ACC.

He pointed out that in-house lawyers have a unique advantage over those in private practice because they generally have “a broad range of expertise across a number of different commercial areas whereas commercial lawyers in law firms generally specialise in a particular specific commercial area of the law”.

“With their general commercial legal expertise across various areas of the law, in-house lawyers are well placed to provide much needed pro-bono legal services to those who may not otherwise be able to afford legal services”, Harby wrote.

However, he noted that SA-based in-house lawyers typically hold a ‘Category C’ Practising Certificate, which prohibits most in-house lawyers in the state from offering legal advice outside of their employer or established community legal centres. This is a stark contrast to states like Queensland, which allows lawyers to provide pro bono services for pro bono projects approved by the Australian Pro Bono Centre, or like NSW, Victoria and WA, which permits lawyers to give legal advice on a pro bono basis.

“We believe that this issue may deter junior lawyers from working in-house and limits future opportunities for those lawyers”, Harby wrote. “From a policy perspective, this limitation impacts the ability of in-house lawyers to be engaged in altruistic endeavours”.

Thus, ACC Australia proposed a scheme wherein SA-based in-house lawyers would be automatically authorised to undertake pro bono work under their current practising certificates. Alternatively, lawyers could apply for authorisation from the Law Society to be able to take on pro bono work, or be allowed to volunteer on Australian Pro Bono Centre-approved pro bono projects.

Harby urged the SA Law Society to coordinate with ACC Australia on possible solutions or to receive further clarification.

“There is clearly a need for additional pro bono services in Australia, and in-house counsel are eager to do all they can to help meet that demand”, ACC Australia President Mei Ramsay said. “I appreciate the Law Society of South Australia for providing this opportunity for ACC Australia to contribute to this important issue, and we stand ready to work with them”.

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