Times have changed! Until last month, “corporate practising certificates” applicable to in-house lawyers in Victoria, Australia, limited them to providing legal advice only to their employers. This restriction prevented these lawyers from volunteering their services for pro bono work in the same manner as their law firm counterparts and in-house lawyers in other Australian states.
Thankfully, the Legal Profession and Public Notaries Amendment Bill 2012 was passed by the Victorian Parliament on March 27, given Royal Assent on April 3, and became effective on May 2. The bill amended the Legal Profession Act 2004 by lifting restrictions on in-house lawyers and allowing them to provide important pro bono services outside their workplace. Now, Victoria’s 2,700 in-house lawyers who work for businesses, governments, and community organizations have the opportunity to provide free legal services to marginalized and disadvantaged Victorians. This meaningful change is yet another demonstration of Australia’s strong commitment to pro bono.
The decision to overturn the limitation was the result of several years of work by the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) and the Public Interest Law Clearing House. These groups first proposed the reform in August 2009 to the then Attorney General Robert Hulls, who supported increased pro bono, yet took a different approach. The current Attorney General Robert Clark, has been supportive of the new amendment from its inception, calling the reform “common sense.”
Under the amended act, an attorney must be covered by professional indemnity insurance on terms and conditions approved by the Legal Services Board (LSB). Currently, LSB has approved a policy taken out by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre (NPBRC), and has stated their willingness to approve similar policies. Under NPBRC’s insurance arrangement, coverage is provided to volunteers, who are not required to pay a premium or other fees, including any excess in the event of a claim.
Now that Victoria has joined Queensland and New South Wales as the third state in three years to lift their restrictions on in-house lawyers, ACLA has set its sights on South Australia. Let’s hope that other jurisdictions in Australia, and around the world, follow in Victoria’s footstep and lift unnecessary restrictions on in-house pro bono.
For more information regarding the rule change in Australia, click here.
*hat tip to PBI intern Sherri Golkow for her help on this post