BlogCareersA Day in the Life of a Pro Bono Lawyer | Roles, Skills, Advice

A Day in the Life of a Pro Bono Lawyer | Roles, Skills, Advice

Advice for Aspiring Criminal Lawyers

So, you’re interested in studying law and want to make a social impact on the world? Listen in on the experience of a Pro Bono Lawyer!

We’ll be going through how they balance their commercial and pro bono role, how they made the most out of their time as a law student and graduate, and advice for aspiring students wanting to get into pro bono work. 

If you’re keen on knowing more, keep scrolling! 

Meet Taylor
What is a Pro Bono Lawyer?
Steps to Becoming a Pro Bono Lawyer
Future Outlook
Best Thing & Worst Thing
Advice for Aspiring Pro Bono Lawyers

Meet Taylor

Taylor works as Community and Pro Bono Manager at one of Australia’s top 40 law firms, where Taylor also balances the commercial side of what their role demands. They have also been named one of Lawyers Weekly‘s 30 Under 30 finalists for their pro bono work!

For their company reasons, our interviewee is staying anonymous. However, we’ll give them the pseudonym “Taylor” for this article. 

How did you end up in this role? 

“As a graduate, I found that I wanted to do more than just work on corporate transactions and so looked for opportunities to be involved in pro bono and diversity causes on top of my corporate role,” Taylor tells us.

The more experience they had, the more opportunities came their way. “Showing senior leaders that they could trust me with executing and delivering projects in addition to my corporate law role meant that I was able to take more responsibility in those passion areas, ultimately leading to a dual role of both commercial and community work,” Taylor says.

Studies and Experience 

Anyone who wants to practise law has to get a degree in Law, whether that’s a Bachelor of Laws or a Juris Doctor (for graduate students). 

During Taylor’s time at uni, they explored their choices by taking on internships, “I started with internships during university at a corporate law firm, which gave me insight into the training and learning opportunities that were on offer in those types of institutions,” Taylor highlights.

After graduation, it was a matter of getting to know the corporate world of working in law and working up to more senior roles; in other words, Taylor worked up their paralegal and trainee roles to management and executive roles. 

What made you want to work in this industry?

It was a mix of passion and understanding the social need for pro bono lawyers that led Taylor to take on their role. 

“At my core, I care about people and this is a strong driver in all that I do, both professionally and personally. In some ways, this character trait alone made me want to work in pro bono,” Taylor says.

“The broader context is working closely with disadvantaged communities and groups, and seeing the impact that resources available to me can have on those groups, whether it be knowledge, opportunities, facilities.”

What is a Pro Bono Lawyer?

While there are many pro bono lawyers (in the sense that many lawyers occasionally take pro bono cases), very few lawyers actually dedicate a full-time role themselves. 

Coming from the Latin phrase “pro bono publico” meaning “for the public good”, a pro bono lawyer provides legal services on a free or an accessible fee rate. These lawyers work with no expectation for profit.

Pro bono roles often occur in commercial law firms, as Taylor explains, “Often in commercial law firms, there are both dedicated pro bono teams and lawyers across the firm who assist with pro bono tasks on an ad hoc basis. This structure also lends itself to collaboration, particularly across practice areas, that builds teamwork and cross-sectional knowledge.”

Roles and Responsibilities 

To balance their commercial and pro bono roles, Taylor uses the ‘Eisenhower’s Urgent-Important Principle‘, which allows them to balance the various demands of my role.

They tell us, “In my particular role, I find that the commercial demands are important and more time sensitive. To manage the time-sensitivity of pro bono queries, we have ongoing meetings with those clients to understand their pipeline and associated legal assistance required. 

“Pro bono cases vary significantly, particularly depending on the nature of your client. I work on pro bono cases for both individual and organisational clients,” Taylor explains.

“The former may include lodging complaints for misleading or deceptive conduct with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) to initiating local court claims by assisting with drafting statements of claim. At the organisational level, pro bono assistance can take form of assisting with obtaining Deductible Gift Recipient status or drafting underlying organisational documents such as constitutions.”

Which industries do pro bono lawyers work in?

Pro bono lawyers work in the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services industry. The industry consists of highly skilled workers who typically hold a university degree. 

Characteristics and Qualities

Characteristics of a Pro Bono Lawyer

According to the Australian Government’s JobOutlook, there are four knowledge areas of a pro bono lawyer: 

  • Law and Government
  • Critical Thinking 
  • Personal Service 
  • Administration

“Often the pro bono work involves a range of legal knowledge and skills that come from commercial experience,” Taylor explains.

In Taylor’s experience, the pro bono team is generally leaner which allows more junior lawyers to have greater exposure to the client as well as case management. They generally have greater autonomy and carriage of matters which can build invaluable project management skills, client relationship and communication skills and deep technical legal knowledge as per client needs. 

Steps to Becoming a Pro Bono Lawyer

What should you study?

To become a pro bono lawyer, you first must have completed a Bachelor of Law or a Juris Doctor (for graduate students). 

You’ll also have to complete a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice (GDLP) by finishing 15 weeks full-time of PLT (or 30 weeks part-time). You can start your PLT early once you have completed all your Priestley 11 core subjects and have 2 electives remaining in your degree! 

Check out these universities that offer undergraduate law degrees you may want to consider:

How long does it take to become a Pro Bono Lawyer?

You can work as a pro bono lawyer as soon as you graduate from a four-year Bachelor’s degree in Law and complete your PLT. 

Industry Knowledge

A pro bono lawyer gains various skills and knowledge depending on the practice areas of the firm they work for. For Taylor, there is a lot of overlap with their their commercial experience.

They give the example of dealing a general customer contract in their work, “General customer contracts for pro bono clients have standard contract clauses that are common in commercial contexts too, such as privacy laws, exclusivity, confidentiality and governing jurisdiction.”

What will this career look like in the future?

How in-demand is pro bono work?

As pro bono work is often in need, there is a high and steady demand for pro bono lawyers. Many young lawyers also work in pro bono roles to boost their legal experience.

Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?

“I would say there are always opportunities for growth or career development,” Taylor says. It is also good for any aspiring lawyer to actively incorporate ways to improve themselves through reflection, inspiration and motivation.

Taylor continues to tell us, “I regularly reflect on and adjust my goals to keep me focussed on and accountable to my personal growth journey. I also speak to, read about or listen to leaders or success stories regularly, which keeps me inspired and energised to grow.

“In situations where ostensibly there are limited such opportunities, I find on introspection, you can find it within yourself to seek out and create opportunities.”

Annual SalaryFuture GrowthSkill Level Rating
$85,000+Very strong over the next 5 yearsVery high skill

Influential Trends and The Future of this Industry

Taylor finds that the social need and impact of pro bono is positively growing throughout the whole law industry. 

“There is certainly a growing awareness of the legal profession’s responsibility to assist those in need. I am sure this will continue as there is greater expectation on individuals and firms to contribute to pro bono targets or other such regimes.

“This goes beyond the industry and correlates to a broader trend where corporates and commercial businesses are required,” Taylor says. 

Best Thing & Worst Thing

What do you enjoy most about this job?

The most enjoyable aspect of Taylor’s pro bono role is “knowing that the knowledge and resources that I have the privilege to access is being used to help people.”

What do you enjoy least about this job?

“I wouldn’t say there is any aspect of which I don’t enjoy in this field. I think it is a privilege to be able to leverage a skillset lawyers have been fortunate enough to develop, to do good for others,” Taylor says.

“It can be challenging at times balancing pro bono work with commercial demands, however this does not take away from the opportunity to do pro bono work.”

Advice for Aspiring Pro Bono Lawyers

What do you wish you had known before you started working as a pro bono lawyer?

“I wish I knew a lot of things before I started my career!” Taylor says. However, to point out one thing, truly understanding and bottling down what motivates them each day is what Taylor wishes they had known. 

Quote from Pro Bono Lawyer

Why should people consider taking on pro bono work?

“Pro bono work is an invaluable opportunity to give back to the community and make the most of what you’ve learnt in making a positive impact on those around you. My advice is to get involved and absorb as much as you can from the experience — not only technical legal skills but soft skills and the broader context of society,” Taylor aptly advises. 

Job Flexibility 

“This is dependent on the workplace/firm. I am lucky to have flexibility in terms of location and am trusted to log-in and clock off per my workload demands.

“The minimal emphasis on face time has been particularly important during times of recovery following significantly demanding periods,” Taylor says.

There is an increasing emphasis on taking leave when individuals require it to optimise their efficiency and protect their mental health. This has been one beneficial by-product of the ongoing lockdowns in Australia.”

What is the workplace culture like?

This of course varies from workplace to workplace. In Taylor’s current role as part of being a Community and Pro Bono Manager, they say, “The culture within the pro bono program is one of collaboration and openness, values that are also espoused more broadly at the firm; beyond the pro bono program.”

Lynn Chen is a Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and is a Communication student at UTS with a major in Creative Writing. Lynn’s articles have been published in Vertigo, The Comma, and Shut Up and Go. In her spare time, she also writes poetry.

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