Pro Bono Publico

'For the public good'

UQ Law School, St Lucia. UQ Law School, St Lucia.

Legal problems in life are often hidden and hard to identify, and vulnerable people in our community are often the most affected. 

Everyday problems like health, housing, money and employment usually involve a legal dimension and failing to address them results in poorer outcomes for many people. As legal problems become bigger and harder to resolve, people can experience greater physical, emotional and financial stress. 

Designing legal services so that people receive the help they need, when they need it, is a focus for governments and the legal assistance sector across Australia. It’s also something that is strongly embedded in the student learning experience at The University of Queensland’s TC Beirne School of Law. The School’s UQ Pro Bono Centre has coordinated student pro bono legal work in partnership with the legal profession for almost a decade.

One example is the MsP, a pro bono partnership between Caxton Legal Centre and the UQ Pro Bono Centre, which contributed to such diverse research as:

  • an inquiry on the Modern Slavery Act
  • an audit and review of 2016 Human Rights Committee submissions  
  • a Handbook for Community Lawyers and Academics: The importance of collaboration in producing impactful research
  • a fact-sheet produced for the Environmental Defender's Office on Queensland Vegetation Clearing Laws.

Though not a substitute for an adequately funded public legal system, pro bono legal services help bridge the gap and test new innovations in legal service delivery. 

2017 Asia-Pacific Pro Bono Conference 2017 Asia-Pacific Pro Bono Conference

UQ law students attended the 2017 Asia-Pacific Pro Bono Conference in Malaysia, where they were able to connect and collaborate with like-minded international law students.

UQ law students attended the 2017 Asia-Pacific Pro Bono Conference in Malaysia, where they were able to connect and collaborate with like-minded international law students.

‘Pro bono’ generally describes the provision of free [legal] assistance to those in our society who cannot afford [legal] advice and whose problem is a matter of public interest. 

Doing legal work on a pro bono basis (‘law for free’) is widely regarded as an inherent professional responsibility of lawyers.

In 2008, academics at the TC Beirne School of Law saw this as an opportunity to formally involve law students in the provision of pro bono legal work. With the support of the then Head of School Professor Ross Grantham, Professor Tamara Walsh and Dr Paul O’Shea officially established the UQ Pro Bono Centre in early 2009. Professor Walsh recalls the Centre’s humble beginnings.  

“At the start we ran the Centre with no staff, no office space and a handful of pro bono tasks. This soon became unsustainable as we realised the demand for student pro bono. We are very grateful that UQ and the Law School have always recognised the importance of the Centre’s work.”  

Nine years on, the Centre is the only program of its kind embedded within an Australian university law school and is run by a small team of highly committed professional staff with strong links to the community legal sector. Law School academics continue to play an important role in supervising law students’ pro bono legal research tasks and overseeing the Centre’s various programs. 

Through the Centre’s strong partnerships and diversified programs, undergraduate students are offered an opportunity to truly improve access to justice in communities, undertaking learning experiences that empower them to apply their knowledge and skills while serving an unmet public need. 

Some students continue to be involved with the Centre after graduating. 2016 Bachelor of Arts/Laws graduate Balawyn Jones has supervised a number of projects, including the publication of strategic advocacy guides for the defence of battered women in Afghanistan who have killed their abusive partners, and a program to draft gender sensitive and victim-centred amendments for the Afghan Penal Code. Local lawyers in Afghanistan are now using the strategic advocacy guides the team drafted, and they have been used in a recent case. 

Pro bono legal activities also extend to the high school education system as part of the Law Education Outreach Program, established by Associate Professor Peter Billings in 2010. The program harnesses the passion of law students to deliver legal information sessions to high school students on topical issues such as asylum and refugee law, domestic and family violence law and international humanitarian law. 

For eight years, Associate Professor Billings has supervised the asylum and refugee law program and says the impact on student engagement and community consciousness is significant.  

“This program essentially sprang to life through law students’ concern about the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia and how this failed to meet our international law obligations. Our students’ desire to create change and to challenge what they see as a deep injustice on disadvantaged people in our community is inspirational.”  

Effective pro bono schemes are necessarily grounded in partnerships and collaboration. The Centre works closely with many stakeholders in the legal sector, including private law firms, barristers and community legal centres, to leverage their pro bono contribution with student input. 

Collaboration is at the heart of what we do. It is very much a symbiotic process as we both benefit from and support the profession’s tremendous pro bono contribution.

"Our students are tomorrow’s change makers. Through their interaction with the UQ Pro Bono Centre, we hope they will gain a deeper awareness of the social context in which the law operates, and that this will inform their professional outlook, wherever their paths in the law take them."
– Monica Taylor, Director of the Pro Bono Centre, TC Beirne School of Law

Learn more about the Pro Bono Centre’s work, or help our students help society's most vulnerable by making a donation.

About the author

Monica Taylor is the Director of UQ’s Pro Bono Centre, a position she has held since 2012. Previously, she worked in the community legal sector advising clients across a range of areas of law including housing, disability, mental health and public space law.

As Director of the UQ Pro Bono Centre, Monica coordinates the Law School’s Clinical Legal Education program, and is involved in pursuing pro bono legal opportunities for law students.

As a former clinic coordinator and qualified solicitor, Monica has taught students in clinical legal settings including the LawRight Mental Health Law Clinic and the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic. She leads a dedicated team of three administrative and five academic staff.