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07 March 2023

Pro bono about relationships, not just hours

This article was originally published by Jess Feyder for Lawyers Weekly (7 March 2023) and republished by the Australian Pro Bono Centre.

Many metrics measure the worth of a firm’s pro bono work in terms of the number of hours contributed. One senior associate from a BigLaw firm maintains that there are other important metrics to account for.

Recent analyses of firms’ pro bono contributions have charted a sustained increase in the number of hours given. However, such studies have not yet analysed the quality of pro bono work produced and the quality of relationships developed through the work. 

Bartier Perry pro bono senior associate Kamran Khalid shared his perspective. 

Law firms should adopt the same approach towards pro bono clients as they do to their commercial clients, including a focus on legal excellence, client relationships and industry knowledge, Mr Khalid explained.  

Mr Khalid, who has more than eight years of experience as a commercial lawyer, said measuring the success of pro bono work is not purely about counting the hours undertaken, but rather, the quality and timeliness of the work and the meaningful relationships built with clients. 

“It’s no secret that most law firms’ client strategies are about focusing on specific sectors, building a deep understanding of the issues clients are facing and providing legal services in growing areas of demand,” Mr Khalid stated. 

“There are hard metrics to measure how a commercial relationship between a firm and its clients is performing, and when you talk to charities and other pro bono clients, they’re looking for the same level of commitment.”

Mr Khalid, who was appointed last year to manage the firm’s pro bono program, said Bartier Perry was focused on ensuring its approach with pro bono clients matched that of its commercial ones. 

“As an example, we’ve focused on a number of core areas to deliver our pro bono services, one of which is assisting Indigenous clients. 

“Our workflow in this area has increased by more than 200 per cent over a seven-month period,” he stated. 

“Hours are important, but they’re not the only consideration when it comes to a pro bono program.”

The growth of relationships in a firm’s targeted sectors, such as Indigenous, disability and regional areas for Bartier Perry, is key.

Bartier Perry chief executive Riana Steyn commented that harnessing good intentions and individual passions into a disciplined program means it is possible to obtain the best outcomes for clients and communities. 

“Pro bono clients don’t want their legal advisers to just fit them in between other matters when they have the time,” Ms Steyn highlighted. 

“Adopting a commercially focused approach for not-for-profits and individuals is what many of those clients tell us they’re seeking in their advice.” 

“Kamran brings a strategic and legal project management perspective to our pro bono initiatives,” said Ms Steyn. “It allows us as a firm to be more structured in our pro bono development.”

“Like any client relationship strategy, that brings complexity and hard choices as to what sectors and work you focus on, adopting an ad-hoc attitude towards what pro bono work you undertake doesn’t benefit the firm or the clients in the long run.”