In 2015. one of the country’s oldest law firms, Colin Biggers & Paisley, launched a foundation focusing on the rights of women and children. Leanne Ho talks to Generosity about the Foundation’s genesis, goals, challenges and impact.
What was the impetus for launching the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation?
As one of the oldest legal practices in Australia, Colin Biggers & Paisley recognises the positive impact that lawyers can have on society by promoting the rule of law and access to justice. Lawyers are in a unique position to help people experiencing disadvantage navigate the legal system and have their voices heard. The Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation is the vehicle for driving our commitment to making a long-lasting and positive contribution to the community.
What is the focus of your Foundation and why?
The core focus of our Foundation is to promote and protect the rights of women and children in Australia and abroad. There are many different worthwhile needs we could try to address but we have decided to do more with less and ensure maximum impact by focusing on this particular area of need.
Under the umbrella of our focus on the rights of women and children, we also work to address other thematic issues, specifically violence against women, housing and homelessness, refugees and migrants, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Does the firm have a giving philosophy or a set of goals?
We deliver high calibre legal services as a national Australian legal practice. We aim to do so in a responsible and sustainable way, with a strong commitment to the communities of which we are part.
Of course, being a leading Australian legal practice, some of the key goals for our Foundation are to improve access to justice, reduce unmet legal need and to play a leading role in making the justice system work better.
We use our collective skills and our expertise across the entire firm to provide access to opportunities for the benefit of communities. We are constantly working to ensure that our business is one that our people are proud to work in and our clients are proud to work with.
How is the Foundation structured?
The Foundation brings together our entire community offering and is comprised of three streams: pro bono legal services, volunteering and charitable contributions. We consider all requests for pro bono legal services, professional and general volunteering, community project assistance and in-kind support.
What organisations do you support and what form does that support take?
The Foundation collaborates with numerous organisations to protect the rights of women and children in Australia, including Women’s Legal Services across Australia and many other pro bono referral organisations, community legal centres, and other not-for-profit organisations.
In particular, the Arts Law Centre and the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation have established a major partnership for at least three years and have agreed to collaborate in the area of Australian artists and arts organisations across all art forms.
The range of pro bono legal services we offer includes advice, legal clinics, legal research, policy analysis, secondments, parliamentary submissions, representation, legal education and workshops, strategic litigation and advocacy. Our pro bono offering is strengthened by our volunteering program and charitable contributions. All our staff can contribute through our structured Workplace Giving Project.
Your major fundraiser for 2017 is the Top End Challenge. Can you tell us about this initiative?
The Top End Challenge is a six-day trek in the wilderness of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. Our team will walk five hours a day in support of Artists in the Black, a specialised legal service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, communities and arts organisations run by the Arts Law Centre.
Artists in the Black works with Aboriginal women and their children to provide access to legal advice, information and education about their rights so that they may gain financially from their artworks.
We are aiming to raise enough money to fund a lawyer position at the Arts Law Centre to keep this critical program running.
You established the Access To Justice Prize (#A2JPrize), now in its second year. Can you tell us a little about #A2JPrize?
The purpose of the A2JPrize is to generate discussion amongst law students and recent law graduates about current access to justice issues in Australia and to explore how lawyers from the commercial sector can respond through pro bono initiatives.
Entrants are asked to submit either a 1000-word essay or a short video blog in response to a set question on an access to justice related theme. Judged by a panel of senior people within the legal profession, the A2JPrize aims to help develop a pro bono culture amongst the next generation.
Submissions have just closed for this year’s A2JPrize and we are looking forward to announcing the winner very soon. This year’s winner will receive a $2,000 cash prize plus a paid internship (up to eight weeks) in the Responsible Business Group at Colin Biggers & Paisley. Our Responsible Business Group, in addition to the Foundation, includes our Inclusion and Diversity program, and our initiatives and thinking in the areas of Environment & Sustainability and Business & Human Rights.
Have you had any challenges and how have they informed how you operate?
An ongoing challenge for us is sourcing the right kind of work to match our expertise and aims. We rely very heavily on community partners who work at the coalface to provide us with a link to people with the greatest needs. Many of our community partners have faced significant funding insecurity that impacts on their operations. This is one of the reasons why our Foundation provides a range of philanthropic grants, contributions, donations and in-kind support to organisations with which we closely work.
What advice would you give other businesses thinking about starting a foundation?
Consult your people about what they are passionate about. Any responsible business strategy can only work if it is embedded into the culture of the business and touches both the lives of the staff participating in it and the lives of people in the community.
Identify and deeply involve leaders within your business who will champion the foundation’s work and help to build a responsible business culture.
Talk to others who are working in this space and collaborate with like-minded partners. There are so many inspirational leaders in the corporate and community sectors working together to make a difference who will generously share their experiences of what has worked for them.
What do you hope will be the legacy of the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation?
The people our Foundation has assisted include victims of sexual assault who have received compensation, Indigenous artists who have successfully asserted their intellectual property rights, and disadvantaged young people who have developed the skills to gain meaningful employment opportunities.
We would like to be able to identify and measure the legacy of the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation – not just in terms of the number of pro bono and volunteer hours we have contributed or the amount of money which has been raised for our community partners – but in terms of the positive contribution we have made to the lives of the people we assist.
COLIN BIGGERS & PAISLEY FOUNDATION: BY THE NUMBERS
Provided more than 150 individuals with pro bono assistance
Provided pro bono assistance to more than 170 organisations
Raised and donated $409,661 to organisations
Nominated for 5 pro bono and community awards
68% of CBP lawyers participated in the pro bono practice
The firm recently released its second impact report, We Are Global Citizens, which tracks its impact in terms of the number of pro bono and volunteer hours, the amount of money raised for community partners and a sample of the outcomes achieved for individual clients.
Founded over a century ago, Colin Biggers & Paisley is one of the oldest legal practices in the country. They have nearly 430 staff and offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Leanne Ho is the firm’s Pro Bono and Responsible Business Consultant.