New Zealand Law Society - New Zealand’s pro bono clearinghouse opens for business

New Zealand’s pro bono clearinghouse opens for business

It’s been ten years in the making but in July 2021 New Zealand’s first pro bono portal opened for business. Supported by funding from the Ministry of Justice, Te Ara Ture connects volunteer lawyers to people who need legal help.

“It’s an incredible feeling to finally have this off the ground,” says Te Ara Ture Director Darryn Aitchison who piloted the model at the Auckland Community Law Centre before its national launch.

“Te Ara Ture exists because we know pro bono has the power to transform lives. Most legal problems are experienced by just a small number of New Zealanders. Their problems are often serious – resulting in significant social, economic and personal harm.

“Many of these people don’t know where to turn for help so Te Ara Ture will act as a bridge between lawyers and those in need.”

How does Te ara Ture work?

“Finding good, meaningful matters is one of the main challenges for lawyers wanting to do more pro bono work” says Darryn. “Te Ara Ture gets referrals from its community networks, and uses a secure online portal to match legal matters with pro bono providers.”

The software behind the portal was developed by Justice Connect in Australia and has been rolled out to three other jurisdictions including Aotearoa New Zealand.

“The tool is designed to remove many of the barriers currently in place for lawyers wanting to do pro bono work,” says Darryn.

“As a lawyer signing up to the tool you tell us what areas of the law you can offer help in, the amount of time you have and the level of work that you want to take on. We can then filter through the requests that come in to match you with the right person.

“We find cases based on your expertise, screen for eligibility, reduce risk, package the work into manageable bundles and communicate with you via the online platform.”

How many lawyers have signed up?

About 200 lawyers have registered to receive referrals so far. They come from a mix of law firms, sole-practitioners and barristers.

“It’s quite a tricky stage that we’re at,” explains Darryn.

“We need to balance the number of matters coming in with the number of lawyers registered with us.

“We’re starting to get more cases coming through from Community Law Centres around the country as well as more lawyers signing up.

“There is plenty of enthusiasm from the profession. I would simply ask that anyone wanting to volunteer is patient at this stage whilst we’re increasing the number of cases we have!

“We know from other clearinghouses that our approach and the portal works. I am confident that we will grow this into a large network of pro bono lawyers and provide many quality pro bono experiences.”

What sort of cases are coming into Te ara Ture?

“It’s been a real mix. The first matter we had was an RMA. We’ve had several other public law matters, private contractual matters, and employment matters. It really can be any area of the law that people need help.”

The types of services needed across the different areas of the law include merits assessments, advice, one-off advocacy or appearances, and help with dispute resolution.

Who can do pro bono work through Te Ara Ture?

At this stage, only lawyers practicing on their own account or firms can accept legal work through Te Ara Ture. Employees of those organisations can also do work through Te Ara Ture, provided the employer registers for referrals.

“But there are other ways you can help,” says Darryn.

“Any lawyer can do pro bono work directly through a community law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau. And firms can get involved in other ways too.

“We are a two-person team at the moment with a limited ability to do all the things that need to be done to make this a success. We’ve had some good support from larger law firms in the past with things like IT help but we always need more across a whole range of corporate functions like finance and communications.”

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