Pro bono legal work: a guide for in-house corporate lawyers

1 Aug 2017

‘Pro bono’ comes from the Latin phrase ‘pro bono publico’ which means ‘for the public good’. In the legal context it generally means the provision of free legal services to those who would not otherwise be able to access the legal system, or whose matter raises an issue of public interest. 

It can take many forms including the provision of community legal education, reviewing documents, advising individuals in clinics, providing legal advice, and court representation. 

While there is no universally accepted definition of what is meant by ‘pro bono’, the definition of ‘pro bono legal services’ adopted by the Australian Pro Bono Centre is widely accepted in Australia. It includes legal assistance provided for free or at a substantially reduced fee for not-for-profit organisations that ‘work for the public good’. 

An organisation’s in-house legal team can play a unique role in helping to build, strengthen and complement the organisation’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. Organisations are expanding their CSR programs to include impact investment and other forms of support for social enterprises (which aim to secure social returns as well as profits) and may choose to adopt a broader concept of pro bono to include support for some social enterprises. Further, CSR programs are increasingly setting standards for sustainable supply chains. In this way corporations can choose to follow the lead of various government agencies by using their buying power to encourage their legal service providers to do pro bono legal work.

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