In-House Pro Bono in Australia

This week The PBEye takes a look at pro bono down under where Telstra, one of the largest in-house legal departments in Australia, has expanded the company’s responsibility to be a good corporate citizen to include legal pro bono work.  Working with Justice Connect, the new name for the merged Public Interest Law Clearing Houses of the states of New South Wales and Victoria, Telstra’s legal department has provided hundreds of hours of pro bono assistance to underserved communities throughout Australia.

The push to engage in direct legal services came from the legal team at Telstra.  A department of about 180 lawyers, the legal staff desired to take a hands-on approach to pro bono.  As Telstra’s General Counsel Carmel Mulhern describes it, “We are a really large, if not the largest, in-house legal team for a corporate [entity], and we feel we have a role and a responsibility to give something back to those less fortunate and to give something back to the community.”  Mulhern says the legal department is just like other parts of the company when it comes to having “good corporate citizen” responsibilities.

Pro bono matters referred by Justice Connect to Telstra are typically undertaken in the offices of community legal centers or Salvos Legal, the Salvation Army law firm, and selected based on the expertise and interests of the lawyers involved.  Telstra’s legal department has also provided pro bono legal advice for Aboriginal artists in the Northern Territory and Western Australia on trips organized by the Arts Law Centre.

Not surprisingly, the dividends of this effort have not only benefited Telstra’s pro bono clients but have brought great value to volunteers as well.  As Mulhern notes, “For Telstra, the benefit is that I have a team that feels really good about working here.  They can still do mergers and acquisitions or a huge contract . . . but this makes them feel really good about being lawyers.”