Victorian Coalition Government opens up pro bono opportunities

The Victorian Coalition Government has introduced legislation to cut red tape and open up opportunities for more Victorian legal practitioners to assist the community through pro bono legal advice and assistance.

The Legal Profession and Public Notaries Amendment Bill 2012 will amend the Legal Profession Act 2004 to remove unnecessary restrictions that currently prevent corporate legal practitioners – that is, practitioners who work as “in-house” lawyers for businesses, governments or community organisations and who hold a valid practising certificate – from volunteering their services for pro bono legal work other than with community legal centres.

At present it is not possible, for example, for corporate legal practitioners to form a team to provide pro bono legal services to assist in a disaster-affected community in Victoria.

“This has long been a source of frustration for legal practitioners who are willing and able to provide such assistance, and has been a lost opportunity for the community as a whole,” Attorney-General Robert Clark said.

“There is no good reason why ‘in-house’ lawyers who work for businesses, governments or community organisations should not able to provide the same range of pro bono assistance to the community as lawyers engaged in other forms of legal practice.

“Freeing up the law to allow corporate lawyers to provide pro bono legal assistance is a common sense reform of the legal profession that was ignored for years by the previous Labor Government.”

The Government is currently working with the Legal Services Board to arrange a suitable professional indemnity insurance policy for corporate lawyers that will provide cover for their pro bono work.

Once these arrangements are in place it will open the way for up to 2,700 legal practitioners who hold corporate practicing certificates to engage in pro bono work on the same basis as other practitioners.

The Bill also cuts red tape in legal profession regulation, for example by providing for the Legal Services Board to delegate decisions regarding indemnity insurance exemptions, allowing the LSB to cease disciplinary investigations when a practitioner has already been struck off the roll and removing redundant reporting requirements.

In addition, the Bill makes clear that a person must show that they are a fit and proper person for appointment in order to be appointed as a public notary.

“This Bill is a further demonstration of the Victorian Coalition Government’s commitment to reducing regulatory burdens, boosting productivity and opening up opportunities.” Mr Clark said.