Pro bono’s not just about people: supporting the environment through pro bono

Hall & Wilcox’s partnership with the Conservation Ecology Centre demonstrates how pro bono support can help an environmental organisation fulfil its mission.

Law firms and not-for-profit organisations have much to benefit from establishing strategic partnerships. Law firms can lend their expertise and resources to assist their community partners to work toward their objectives and respond to the legal challenges they sometimes face. Equally, lawyers are stimulated and challenged by being exposed to diverse and interesting legal issues encountered in circumstances unlike those experienced in their day-to-day work, and they often report deriving personal satisfaction from contributing to the community partner’s mission.Hall & Wilcox has worked to establish strategic partnerships with various not-for-profit organisations which focus on a range of different areas.

Since 2012 Hall & Wilcox has partnered with the Conservation Ecology Centre (CEC), a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of wildlife species and ecosystems. Based at Cape Otway in Victoria, the CEC’s vision is an Otways once more vibrant with native wildlife. The CEC’s work includes direct conservation activities, research and volunteer engagement – ranging from researching land management techniques, such as ecological burning, to training volunteers and their dogs as endangered species detection teams. The CEC’s founders also operate an ecolodge at Cape Otway as a social enterprise, the profits of which are used to help fund conservation programs. The ecolodge was named by National Geographic as one of the best 25 ecolodges in the world in 2013.

Since the relationship with the CEC began, Hall & Wilcox has worked on a number of projects where pro bono legal assistance has added value to the CEC’s environmental objectives. Partners and lawyers with experience across Hall & Wilcox, in areas as varied as employment law, governance, real property, tax, contract review and negotiation and risk management, have all played a part in assisting the CEC with its activities.

Examples of some of the innovative projects Hall & Wilcox has been involved with include:

  • the establishment of an agreement with a local brewing company under which a branded beer is produced and profits returned to the CEC;
  • the acquisition of a parcel of farming land at Cape Otway using a significant grant from The RE Ross Trust and funds raised through a public fundraising campaign. The land is currently being rehabilitated and will ultimately be developed into a themed nature walk for children; and
  • assisting with the engagement of a toy manufacturer to produce and supply a Tiger Quoll toy named ‘Dottie’ which is being sold to raise funds for the environmental projects.

According to the CEC‘s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Lizzie Corke, “For small non-profit organisations, such as the Conservation Ecology Centre, access to professional legal expertise is vital. Day to day advice and assistance ensures compliance in employment, manages risk in engaging with volunteers and embarking on new organisational developments, and maximises opportunities with project and funding partners through clear and professional agreements. This legal support provides reassurance, enables growth and assists with the fulfilment of the organisation’s mission.”

Hall & Wilcox’s relationship with the CEC has also added considerably to the depth of the firm’s pro bono practice and the firm more broadly. Working with the CEC has helped the firm’s staff to learn about issues such as species decline and to better understand the importance of conservation programs being undertaken by environmental organisations.

For Hall & Wilcox’s lawyers, the opportunity to be involved with a vibrant and energetic organisation like the CEC has been eye opening and a real joy for the lawyers involved. In addition to the sense of personal satisfaction gained from being involved with the important work being carried out by the CEC, the opportunity to be   involved provides welcome respite from the demands of day-to-day commercial legal practice. The relationship has also helped to build a deeper sense of collegiality across the wider firm, as staff who are not directly involved in the work are kept up-to-date about the work and are able to share in the client’s successes.

According to the partner in charge of Hall & Wilcox’s pro bono and community program, Emma Woolley, “The ongoing pro bono partnership between Hall & Wilcox and the Conservation Ecology Centre is one we value and hope will continue to develop and strengthen over time. We are really pleased to be able to offer our lawyers’ energy and skills in support of the innovative environmental work being undertaken by the centre. We see considerable value for the firm and our people in the partnership.”


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