The importance of offering quality pro bono consulting services
by Zoe Pappas
One of the special and distinctive things about Right Lane is our dedicated social purpose, to contribute to a better society by helping organisations that do good do better. We do that through our regular client work – serving many not-for-profit organisations – and also by investing alongside organisations and contributing our time, expertise and substantial pro bono budget.
Each year, Right Lane commits a significant percentage of our revenue towards pro bono and low bono projects. To galvanise our efforts, we have committed to a series of pro and low bono themes:
- Gender equality
- Human rights
- Public health
- Place based disadvantage
- Responsible investment
The gender equality theme is very important to our whole team. Right Lane is currently doing a significant amount of work on gender equality as a result of our recent appointment to the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector’s panel of providers, supporting defined entities to meet their obligations under the Victorian Gender Equality Act 2020.
Our experience and engagement in gender-related issues provides a platform to look at other ways that we can help drive gender equality in society.
The Law and Advocacy Centre for Women (LACW) is an example of an organisation that sits right at the heart of our mission. LACW is a new kind of legal practice, providing specialist legal services alongside holistic and preventative case management and therapeutic services for women who are at risk of incarceration. There are several factors that mean women are over-represented in the criminal justice system, and this is exacerbated by various intersectional factors such as racial or Indigenous background. LACW is fighting this cause at a grass roots level, helping keep women out of the criminal justice system.
In 2018 and again in 2021, Right Lane worked with the LACW board and executive team, as part of our pro bono consulting program, to support them as they explored their future direction and set their strategy and plan.
In 2018 LACW was very much in its infancy, so their strategy reflected the need for establishment and growth in order to ‘prove the concept’, scale up and fulfill their mission. In 2021, with an established business model and workforce, and real credibility in the sector, the board wanted to explore new horizons and consider how to consolidate these learnings and strong track record, and position LACW for the future.
Having the capacity for these strategic conversations is an essential opportunity for a growing and ambitious organisation like LACW. LACW is a small organisation with a board that meet only a few times a year; its time is typically spent talking through risk reviews and other operational matters which doesn’t leave much space to invest in engaging on strategy.
By facilitating dedicated strategy sessions for LACW we were able to help create an environment where the board could consider key forces in the external environment that will shape the future for the organisation, and consider LACW’s role in creating change, not just for the women they serve but for all women facing the justice system. LACW’s board was able to reimagine what the organisation can achieve over the next strategic horizon and create a clear plan for what the team would need to do to achieve success.
For Right Lane, and for me personally, it is inspiring to have the opportunity to create this kind of value for an organisation like LACW that speaks very much to the heart of our pro bono themes.
CASE STUDY: Why accessing quality pro bono consulting services is so important
I recently sat down with Jill Prior, Principal Legal Officer and co-founder of LACW, to hear her reflections on the importance of accessing quality consulting services.
We began our conversation by reflecting back to 2016 when the centre opened its doors in a far more pared back incarnation of what it is today. The office was set up with no funding, in a very small space loaned to the team, and with ‘just a whole lot of hope’.
Today, the team has now grown to 10 lawyers, 3 social workers and paralegal staff, and is significantly well positioned for the future. As Jill says: ‘It’s been a pretty remarkable journey, to have grown as we wanted to – we somehow managed to do it.’
What was the context for you reaching out to Right Lane and what was the challenge you were seeking to solve?
Jill: My experience in other organisational contexts – local government and other larger organisations – is that typically they have some strategy mechanisms in place; planning functions, forward thinking meetings, etc. For us, when there was two of us and a board of 3, [strategic conversations] didn’t have that sense of urgency.
When we started growing, and were only a little bit bigger, good sense prevailed. There was an idea that we need to start looking at what we want to be in the next 3-5 years, have a bit of a reality check, see where we are, where are our strengths, what do we want to look like in the future.
We needed an external lens and a process that was grounded in theory, knowledge and practice.
[The board strategy workshop] was really meaningful, wonderful and helpful. When we came together this year and revisited where we landed in the first session three years ago, we were pretty spot on with these (what we thought were) enormously aspirational targets. Somehow, we managed to reach them in three years.
A forced stoppage, away from our desks and phones, to talk about where we are, and to ask ourselves are we doing this well, where can we improve, is essential. Going through this process we were able to reflect on our vision and look at the broader objectives of the organisation – when else would we have time to sit down and reflect?
What does it mean to your organisation to access high-quality strategy consulting?
Jill: As the saying goes, ‘The lawyer that acts for herself has a fool for a client’. Our clients deserve exceptional advocacy, legal representation and case management. Our clients need us to perform at a certain level, and they should get exceptional services in the same way as you should if you turn up at St Vincent’s emergency department – you’re not paying, but you should get the best medical treatment. So I have a sense of entitlement.
I do believe that it would be foolish for us to try and do that work [strategy development] ourselves because we don’t have the expertise and somebody like Zoe is able to guide us and our discussion in a very natural way. [The strategy workshop was] seamlessly executed and created a space for us to really tap into the creative processes of future thinking and so it’s absolutely wildly meaningful for us.
That kind of service (quality thinking, preparation, planning) comes with a cost and it’s a cost that we, as an organisation, would find very difficult to meet.
The quality of the service provider (Zoe and the Right Lane team) is exceptional, so it means everything to us. Would we do it ourselves? if we did, it would be probably a bit half-baked and it wouldn’t have the necessary input that somebody who’s a professional in that space brings. We don’t have the same depth of knowledge and breadth of experience in this area. Having Zoe work through these meaningful and reflective processes meant we had insight and vision that would have been difficult to access without her.
We thank Jill Prior for giving up her time to talk to us about the work we have done together. We greatly appreciate our clients, and the relationships we build with them over the long term.
Find out more about LACW here: lacw.com.au
We hope the ideas presented here have given you something new to think about. We would love the opportunity to discuss them with you in more detail. Get in touch today.