New Zealand lawyers, Pro Bono, and Access to Justice
Stewart, Kayla; Toy-Cronin, Bridgette; Choe, Louisa
This report summarises the results of a study about the provision of pro bono legal services in New Zealand. The study was conducted in two phases from September 2018 to February 2019 as part of a wider project about free and low cost services offered by lawyers. The first phase was a survey of the profession, which 360 lawyers completed. The survey included questions about how lawyers define pro bono, how much pro bono work they perform and for which clients, and whether they regard providing pro bono legal services as a professional obligation. The second phase involved qualitative interviews with 23 lawyers to elicit more detailed information about attitudes to pro bono work and how pro bono service provision operates in Aotearoa. The results of the study suggest there is little shared understanding of what constitutes pro bono legal services. This is a significant impediment to any discussion about pro bono legal services, the amount of provision, who is providing the services, and the design of policy to encourage the provision of more pro bono services. The study also identified a blurring between legal aid services and pro bono. The results also suggest that were the NZLS to implement an aspirational target of 35 hours per annum (as has been suggested), most lawyers would fall short of this target. While 41 percent of lawyers are exceeding the target, more than a quarter are doing no pro bono work that enhances access to justice. The remaining quarter are doing some access to justice focused pro bono work, but less than the suggested aspirational target. Furthermore, pro bono services are not distributed fairly either within the profession as service providers, or across the public, as service recipients. The study makes ten recommendations focussed on three key themes: (1) that the profession develops a shared definition of pro bono, focussed on pro bono that enhances access to justice, and that this definition be the basis for all programmes, targets and incentives for carrying out pro bono; (2) that a national clearinghouse for pro bono be introduced to minimise the administrative burden on lawyers providing pro bono and more equitably distribute pro bono services among the public; (3) that the legal profession associations encourage an increase in the amount of pro bono service via a number of mechanisms including regulatory reform and the introduction of an aspirational target.
Series: Civil Justice Insight Series
Keywords: Pro bono; lawyers; legal services
Research Type: Project Report