The Pro Bono Service Award

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.

The Animal Defenders Office provide specialist animal law work. Their volunteer lawyers offer information and representation for individuals and groups wishing to protect animals and those who care for them, and attempts to raise community awareness about animal ownership and animal protection issues.

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.

King & Wood Mallesons believe strongly in giving back to the community through a variety of activities involving all their staff. To achieve this, they have developed a program called KWM Community Impact.

This pro bono and community program reflects the firm’s commitment to the community in which they live, work and operate. The specific aim of the program is directed to those who are most vulnerable in society, aiming to reduce inequality and poverty, particularly amongst children and young people.

The program has led to 100 per cent of lawyers in their Canberra office participating in pro bono work, and their lawyers have met the National Pro Bono Target of at least 35 hours per year.

Some of the pro bono clients they have assisted in the ACT are the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Kulturebreak, Marymead, the Canberra Glassworks, the Women’s Legal Centre, Lifeline Canberra, Anglicare, RSPCA ACT, Toora Women’s Inc, the Youth Law Centre ACT, Equality Australia, and the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

The firm coordinates an Artists in Residence Project in collaboration with Waringarri Arts Centre in Kununurra, WA to increase understanding, relationships and respect. The project hosts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to share skills, knowledge, stories and journey with KWM’s staff and clients. KWM has supported the Waringarri Arts Centre more broadly by providing important IP copyright legal advice.

The firm also encourages a culture of giving through participation in charity sporting events, and direct donations via DigDeep® (KWM’s workplace giving project). Every dollar that a staff member contributes is matched by the KWM partners.

Proximity take the view that pro bono work in the Canberra community requires a conscious and collective effort. Through their core values and direct consultation with staff, they have promoted a pro bono culture at the firm by consciously resourcing and supporting their team to fulfil their pro bono obligations.

Established in 2011, Proximity were the first incorporated legal practice to sign up to the National Pro Bono Target, and assisted the Australian Pro Bono Centre to develop a Statement of Principles for incorporated legal practices.

In the last financial year, Proximity contributed 852.85 hours of pro bono work to the Canberra community, an average of 56 pro bono hours per lawyer. In addition to their pro bono legal work, Proximity also contributes many hours to other corporate social responsibility activities, resulting in a total community contribution of over 63 hours per lawyer.

They provide a full-time secondee to the Women’s Legal Centre, helping to represent disadvantaged women in the ACT. They are the pro bono legal provider for The Farm in Galong, a charitable organisation in country NSW established to support women who have completed rehabilitation from alcohol and drug misuse. They are a longstanding pro bono partner of Menslink, a charity working with young men in Canberra to deliver counselling, mentoring, and education.

They have provided a short-term secondee to ADACAS, a not-for-profit advocacy organisation helping people with disabilities, senior people, and their carers. They have also provided short-term secondees to the Law Society’s Pro Bono Clearing House, and several Proximity lawyers are members of the Pro Bono Clearing House Assessment Panel. Several of their lawyers also volunteer at the Law Society’s Legal Advice Bureau. They also provide pro bono legal advice through the University of Canberra’s Small Business Legal Advice Clinic.

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.