David and Susan - Clayton Utz

Pro Bono Partner David Hillard and Pro Bono Coordinator Susan Flynn

With a partnership spanning 20 years, Clayton Utz is one of IMCL’s long-standing pro bono partners, and has a firm commitment to ensuring that pro bono work is part of each lawyer's everyday practice. The  collaborative  working  partnership  between  IMCL  and  Clayton Utz builds IMCL’s internal capacity by benefitting from the law firm’s mentorship, particularly in the area of employment law.

Pro bono: a lawyer’s responsibility

"Pro bono work is what we view as the inherent professional responsibility of all lawyers," explains Susan Flynn, Pro Bono Coordinator in Clayton Utz's Melbourne office, where she is the first point of contact for pro bono inquiries. 

For Susan, working at Clayton Utz allows her to continue her desire to work closely with community legal centres, where she volunteered whilst a law student, including in a remote part of Western Australia. For her, it is a rewarding way to create a large amount of difference that keeps true to the values with which she went into the law.  

"In our firm, it's about our lawyers getting a chance to work with low income and disadvantaged people and providing them with access to justice. We've really tried to make pro bono work part of everybody's experience here at Clayton Utz," says Clayton Utz Pro Bono Partner David Hillard, who oversees the 700 new pro bono matters that come through firm's doors each year.

“I think all of us entered the law as a profession because we want to help people, and pro bono practice is a day to day reminder of that responsibility which we have as lawyers.

"I don't think pro bono work is something that's particularly special or magical. I think it is part of that fundamental responsibility we have as lawyers to make the legal system work and to make it accessible to everyone, regardless of whether they have the ability to pay.

"In Australia, and in the civil space in particular, it is really difficult for people to get access to a lawyer, and I think that pro bono work with community legal centres goes some small way to filling that really large gap," Mr Hillard reflects. 

A 20-year strong relationship 

Clayton Utz formalised its pro bono practice in Melbourne in 1998, and two of its very first matters came from North Melbourne Legal Service. One matter was for a client needing employment law help, and the other involved assisting the legal service itself regarding questions of legal professional privilege.

Twenty years on, and the relationship is as strong as ever.

"We work with IMCL on a combination of client work – particularly in the employment law space –as well as helping the organisation itself in terms of governance questions, research and internal legal matters," explains David.

Clayton Utz has assisted IMCL to develop its employment clinic, which has involved IMCL working closely alongside Clayton Utz’s employment team.

Employment law cases have surfaced as a real area of unmet community legal need. Adding employment law to IMCL’s suite of services through this partnership has extended IMCL's capacity as a one-stop shop for people experiencing legal problems.

"Our partnership often involves short phone calls between us and IMCL lawyer for advice, as well as attending appointments together, discussing next steps, and strategising," explains Susan.

"It is a really helpful way for any lawyer, both in our firm and a community lawyer, to build on skills together, and for the legal clinic to eventually be able to manage it on their own."

A two-way learning relationship.

Building on skills together is a huge advantage of the strong pro bono partnership. 

"As a firm, we learn so much from community lawyers – they have skills in working with clients closely and directly, and particularly with the more challenging or  complex client relationships," says Ms Flynn.  

"From our end, we are able to provide support and training, and can assist the community legal centres upskill," she explains.  

Mr Hillard says that the relationship of trust that has developed over time between IMCL and Clayton Utz is the key to the success of the partnership. 

"There are lots of institutional reasons why community legal lawyers and corporate lawyers might immediately fear the other in terms of what we can do," says Mr  Hillard. 

"But the reality is that both of us have a lot of strengths that we can use together to try and help clients who would otherwise fall through the cracks."

IMCL on the frontline

Mr Hillard emphasises the importance of the frontline work done by IMCL.

"So much of the work that we do in our pro bono practice for low-income people is driven by where community legal centres identify the gaps. The role of community legal centres is crucial. That's where people go to seek free civil legal assistance. Pro bono clients are not going to wander through the door at 333 Collins Street. It's important that frontline services are supported to do as much as they can.

“One of the things I personally love about Inner Melbourne is the leadership it has shown in relation to the HJP model. It is something that is very close to our hearts as well. It's speaking to that idea of putting lawyers where clients are, and giving access to legal help when people need it most."