Building better pro bono programs

Justice Connect helped Heidi Nash-Smith build Wotton + Kearney’s pro bono program, and expand it across states.

Ever since engaging in pro bono work as a junior lawyer, Heidi Nash-Smith has been a passionate advocate of pro bono work. When she was invited to develop Wotton Kearney’s pro bono program from the ground up, she jumped at the opportunity.

“We didn’t have a formal pro bono program at that point. So Justice Connect was crucial,” said Heidi. “We didn’t have relationships with community legal centres. We didn’t have too much of an idea of what pro bono need there was, or how to best get involved.”

During the early days of Wotton Kearney’s pro bono program, Justice Connect provided support training to new members, referred vetted pro bono matters, and gave the lawyers a sounding board whenever they needed advice about matters or supporting clients in challenging situations.

“At that stage in our program, it was really fundamental to have that relationship with Justice Connect—and that’s continued on.”

After the success of her pro bono program in Sydney, Heidi expanded the program to Melbourne. Now, more than half the firm’s lawyers are involved in pro bono work across Wotton + Kearney’s Australian offices.

Heidi appreciated how the partnership with Justice Connect allowed her firm to get involved in different types of matters. Her team can engage with refugee rights, seniors’ rights and support for self-represented litigants. Being able to work across a wide range of matters allows the firm to improve its impact.

“Everyone in the firm has different skillsets and time. Having different ways people can get involved is great for our lawyers.”

“Reach out to Justice Connect for support.”

Heidi strongly believes that pro bono has had a positive impact on her firm. Alongside the well-documented benefits like employee satisfaction, retention and recruitment, it’s also had a positive impact on senior lawyers and partners. Lawyers can use their specialist skills to have a tangible impact. Plus, they often engage across teams, firms and programs in the process.

“For firms who aren’t already involved in pro bono, I would encourage them to do so,” says Heidi. “Reach out to Justice Connect for support. Justice Connect played a really strong role in helping us develop our pro bono program. I think there’s a real unique opportunity to partner with Justice Connect when you’re first starting out.”