The ACT Law Society’s Pro Bono Service Award is an annual award that recognises the vital work done by individual practitioners in the ACT who volunteer their time and legal expertise to assist others within the community. This pro bono work is largely unacknowledged, but it provides an invaluable service to many disadvantaged members of our community, ensuring that access to justice is available to all.
Nominees are judged based on their achievement in one or more of the following areas:
- made an exceptional contribution to the ACT community through pro bono legal work
- advocated for or on behalf of socially or economically disadvantaged people in the ACT
- contributed to the protection of the public interest in the ACT
- made advancements to access to justice in the ACT.
The Pro Bono Service Award
Jennifer Wyborn has been the Partner leading the Clayton Utz Pro Bono practice in Canberra since 2016. The team have made an exceptional contribution to the ACT community through their pro bono work for the Women’s Legal Centre and Canberra Community Law. This work has significantly increased the services these community legal centres are able to provide for socially or economically disadvantaged people in the ACT and advanced access to justice for women in Canberra.
Jennifer has overseen a number of significant pro bono matters and is particularly passionate about matters that involve questions about the management of domestic violence in the workplace. She has introduced a reverse secondment arrangement with the WLC, where one of their staff is embedded one day a fortnight with the Clayton Utz team, gaining access to expert guidance and strategic advice on WLC cases. This professional development has been invaluable to increasing the skill and capacity at WLC.
Jennifer and her staff also deliver free training for community legal sector workers in areas such as discrimination and employment law, providing access to professional development opportunities otherwise outside the budgetary limitations of the sector.
In addition, Jennifer sits on the Board of the Clayton Utz Foundation, which supports pro bono clients through a grants process.
Vanessa Parkins is a Senior Associate at Sparke Helmore Lawyers, working in the area of CTP insurance. She also volunteers as the Canberra office’s pro bono coordinator, championing pro bono culture to her colleagues and sourcing pro bono opportunities in the local community.
In the year that Vanessa has been coordinating Sparke Helmore’s local pro bono activities, she has achieved 705 hours of total pro bono legal work at the firm (equivalent to 23.4 hours per FTE lawyer). This is on top of her considerable personal pro bono work, where she has completed 132.5 hours (worth $42,618), in addition to her regular duties.
She regularly volunteers her time to the Women’s Legal Service Divorce Clinic, and coordinates other lawyers’ involvement at the clinic. Her team provide pro bono assistance to unrepresented applicants in the Family Court for lodgement of a divorce application. These clients are mainly disadvantaged women who may be experiencing family violence issues, and who often do not speak English as a first language. The social impact of this clinic is significant, as it allows disadvantaged women the legal help required to be granted a divorce through the Federal Court. In the last year, as a result of Vanessa’s coordination and championing of the clinic, lawyers from Sparke Helmore’s Canberra office have contributed more than 220 hours of pro bono legal assistance through this clinic, with Vanessa alone responsible for 78 of those hours.
Another significant project in which Vanessa has played an integral role in Sparke Helmore’s Aboriginal Wills Clinics, through which the firm aims to make a positive impact on Indigenous communities through the provision of culturally appropriate wills clinics in regional and remote communities throughout Australia. The main focus of the clinics is to reduce the extraordinarily high number of burial disputes among the Aboriginal community (an estimated 70% of burial disputes that go to court in Australia involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people).
Late last year Vanessa organised an Aboriginal Wills Clinic in Canberra in partnership with the Women’s Legal Centre ACT, and also volunteered her time to meet with clients and draft their estate documents over a two-day period.
Vanessa coordinates Sparke Helmore’s involvement with the Law Society’s Legal Advice Bureau, as well as volunteering there herself. She has also organised three pro bono secondments to the Law Society’s Pro Bono Clearing House, which amounts to more than 280 hours of pro bono legal assistance to date.
Vanessa has worked tirelessly to develop training modules and staff handbooks, mentor younger lawyers, and engage directly with the community to develop creative solutions for client needs. She has been a strong role model for the Canberra pro bono team, and her leadership in this space is highly valued.
Her passion for pro bono work and the commitment and energy she brings to this aspect of her professional life is not only a great reflection of her own values but equally of the values Sparke Helmore seeks to instil in all their staff.
ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury introduced Professor Maree Sainsbury of the University of Canberra as the winner of the Pro Bono Service Award. Maree Sainsbury has been the key driver behind the Small Business Legal Advice Clinic, which provides an essential free service to small businesses in the ACT. She has also been instrumental in getting law students interested in pro bono work, teaching them the importance of giving back to the community in which they operate, and ensuring the next generation of pro bono lawyers.
The winner of the Pro Bono Service Award was Pierre Johannessen, of Johannessen Legal, for his innovative approach to pro bono work and his commitment to supporting socially and economically disadvantaged people in the ACT.
As part of a very small team of three practising lawyers, he has provided more than $300,000 in pro bono work in the last financial year. He has found innovative ways to reach people who might not otherwise be able to access legal advice, including offering general legal advice and guidance through his #askalawyer series on Instagram live, and running a Barbershop Law program providing free advice on criminal, family, and employment matters for young men. He has used his legal expertise to support the Sisters in Spirit Aboriginal Corporation, and currently advocates for Barnardos ACT, where he organises and runs fundraising campaigns as well as providing pro bono advice for the youth and families the charity supports.
“These winners demonstrate the utmost importance of making sure legal services and information are available in ways that work for those who need the help,” ACT Attorney-General, Shane Rattenbury said. “The generosity and commitment they show to their community is commendable. They inspire all of us to excellence.”
The winner of the Pro Bono Service Award was Jeanine Lloyd, of Jeanine Lloyd and Associates, for many years Jeanine has advocated for and on behalf of socially and economically disadvantaged people in the ACT and surrounds.
Whilst she has a private practice, Jeanine also acts for non-paying or minimal payment clients when she perceives that funding is the only barrier to them obtaining critically needed justice. Jeanine offers her services for family matters including family violence, care proceedings and family law. Jeanine is committed to vulnerable clients who may lose their children, home and/or livelihood due to circumstances beyond their control.
When Jeanine decides to fight for a particularly downtrodden client she commits to achieving the best possible outcome. Jeanine assists vulnerable clients by determination of the need for justice rather than for pecuniary interests only.
Her exceptional commitment to providing much-needed legal support to those in need has earned her the well-deserved Pro Bono Service Award.