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What is pro bono legal work?

You may have heard the term pro bono used in legal shows or movies, but what does it mean?

Pro bono is when a law firm gives legal assistance for free or at a substantially reduced rate. In its Latin form pro bono or “pro bono public” means “for the public good”.

What sort of cases are considered for pro bono?

Individuals or organisations are eligible if they:
  • Demonstrate a need for legal assistance but cannot obtain legal aid without significant financial hardship.
  • Raise an issue of public interest which would not otherwise be pursued.
  • Work on behalf of low income or disadvantage members of the community i.e. charities or non-profit organisations.
Pro bono work can include conducting law reform/policy work and providing free community legal education on issues affecting disadvantaged people. It also includes providing a lawyer on secondment at a community organisation.

Keep in mind, it doesn’t include giving free services to anyone who can’t afford to pay, giving legal assistance under a grant, sponsorship or time spent by lawyers at a community organisation.

Pro bono work is essential in the Australian law industry; providing all Australian’s with the opportunity to seek fair legal representation.

To apply for pro bono, you must have your Legal Aid refusal letter, bank statements, Centrelink information, payslips and other supporting documentation.

How is this work funded?

Pro bono work is supported by not-for-profit organisations such as the state-based Public Interest Law Clearing Houses (PILCHs) and the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC), who provide many of the pro bono services in Australia.

Public Interest Law Clearing Houses are not-for-profit legal services that refer cases to the relevant legal centres and clinics. They also fund many of the community legal clinics they refer work to, like the Homeless Persons Legal Clinic or Mental Health Law Practice.

On May 17, Shine Lawyers Cairns and Mackay branches are participating in the QLD legal walk, an annual fundraiser for Queensland PILCH (QPILCH). The fundraising target for this year's walk is $100,000 which will be used to support QPILCH Mental Health Law Practice and the QPILCH Homeless Persons Legal Clinic. For more information visit

The clinics and community centres themselves often require lawyers to dedicate their time to work there on cases. This network of volunteers is sourced from law firms around Australia and includes those who spend their free time volunteering.

Shine Lawyers are fortunate to have a number of volunteers amongst their ranks. Those who give up their time outside of work to assist in pro bono cases at community legal centres around Australia.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: May 12, 2016.

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