Free Legal Support in NSW: The Law Society Pro Bono Scheme

law-books-for-youThe Law Society’s Pro Bono Scheme can put you in contact with law firms willing to provide their legal services for free or for reduced fees.

This assistance can include legal advice, help with preparing documentation and representation in court.

The Law Society’s Pro Bono Scheme also provides legal assistance on an ‘in-house’ basis for eligible applicants.

Who is eligible?

To be eligible for assistance under the Scheme, applicants must:

  • have applied for and been refused Legal Aid assistance for their legal matter (proof of this is required);
  • satisfy the means assessment applied by the Scheme;
  • have a matter that has merit and/or reasonable prospects of success;
  • have a type of matter covered by the Scheme.


Types of matters covered by the Scheme

  • Administrative law
  • Assistance with Apprehended Violence Orders
  • Bankruptcy
  • Child care and protection
  • Civil claims
  • Criminal law
  • Divorce
  • Employment law
  • Family law matters related to children (eg. live with, spend time with disputes)
  • Immigration assistance for refugees
  • Legal assistance for not-for-profit organisations and charities
  • Wills and Estates
Types of matters not covered by the Scheme
  • Child support disputes
  • Commercial disputes
  • Complaints about solicitors
  • Defamation
  • Dispute regarding legal costs
  • Family law matters related solely property
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Neighbourhood disputes including fence disputes
  • Personal injury claims
  • Professional negligence
  • Spousal maintenance claims and related disputes
  • Victim’s compensation claims
  • Workers compensation claims

The Law Society’s Pro Bono Solicitor has the sole discretion to accept matters that are outside these guidelines due to exceptional circumstances, including disability, risk of physical harm to the applicant and extreme financial hardship.

How do I apply?

Complete and submit the online Application for Pro Bono Referral Form.

Whilst we encourage all applicants to complete an application online we accept paper applications from applicants that cannot use this option.

Please follow these instructions:

1.   Print out the Application for Pro Bono Referral Form:

2.   Fill out the form in full and sign and date on the back page.

3.   Attach your supporting documentation including the following:

  • Legal Aid refusal letter.
  • Bank statements for the last 3 months (for the applicant and any financially associated persons).
  • A print out from Centrelink detailing the entitlements the applicant is in receipt of (and any financially associated persons)
  • Last three (3) payslips if working (and any financially associated persons)
  • Any other supporting documentation including relevant court documentation.

4.   Send the completed and signed application form and all documentation to:

The Law Society of New South Wales
The Pro Bono Scheme
170 Phillip Street
Sydney NSW 2000

Please be advised of the following:

  • We require a minimum of ten (10) working days to assess applications. During this period we are unable to take inquiries as to the status of applications.
  • We do not commence work on applications until all documentation is received by the Scheme.
  • Due to the large number of applications received daily we are not in a position to confirm receipt of applications or documents via telephone or email.
  • We do not accept facsimiles.

Booming surrogacy demand sparks exploitation fears

commercial-surrogacy-in-indiaAustralians paying women in India to have their babies are being overcharged by clinics taking advantage of the booming demand for commercial surrogacy, advocacy groups warn.

As a growing number of Australians travel to India to start a family, spending up to $80,000 and risking breaking the law, Surrogacy Australia said complaints about Indian clinics overcharging were growing.

”There is a concern surrogates are being exploited, equally there is a concern parents are being exploited,” the group’s president, Sam Everingham, said.

”The villains in all this are the clinics making a fortune out of this. It’s very hard for a couple here in Australia to monitor what is going on over there. There have been some greedy operators in the market.”

Parents are increasingly complaining to Surrogacy Australia about being overcharged by as much as 40 per cent and billed for unnecessary medical procedures on surrogates, such as caesareans or hospitalisation for infections that could be treated with over-the-counter medications.

Commercial surrogacy is now a $2.5 billion industry in India, and it is estimated Australians make up at least 40 per cent of the clientele.

The number of Australian babies born in India has more than doubled from 170 in 2008 to 394 in 2011, according to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

India has emerged as Australia’s preferred surrogacy destination as it costs a third of the $US200,000 charged in the United States.

Yet, there are few protections for intended parents, as the Indian industry is unregulated, and it is illegal for people living in NSW, as well as the ACT and Queensland, to pay anyone anywhere in the world to have a baby for them.

However, with no sign of the demand for commercial surrogacy abating, and mounting concerns that parents and surrogates are being exploited, the NSW government is under pressure to rethink the ban on commercial surrogacy overseas. Surrogacy activists will push the case for decriminalisation at a private lunch for NSW parliamentarians next week. Research by Surrogacy Australia shows the ban deters just 7 per cent of parents considering surrogacy. The state ban is also undermined by the practice of the Australian High Commission, which will grant Australian citizenship to any babies born there via commercial surrogacy if DNA tests prove a genetic link to an Australian parent.

New Delhi-based lawyer Anurag Chawla, who has overseen more than 400 contracts between a surrogacy clinic and parents from around the world, said he refuses to do surrogacy contracts any more because the industry is being milked by unscrupulous businesses.

”It’s very unfortunate that there are few regulations in India and there are grey areas that people use to make a lot of money,” Mr Chawla said. ”Clients are just sh*t-scared of losing the baby if they object so they just want to pay and take the baby home, they are so desperate for a child.”

Australians are being advised to get multiple quotes and have an Australian lawyer look at a contract before they sign.

Dr Shivani Sachdev Gour, who runs the Surrogacy Centre India (SCI), which is popular with Australians, said the biggest risk prospective parents faced was spending more money than they planned, and not ending up with a child. ”You may end up spending more than you initially budgeted,” she said.

Three clients of Dr Shivani’s have said that all the potential costs they faced were clearly spelt out in SCI’s documents.

The NSW Labor MP, Linda Burney, was instrumental in the state parliament banning commercial surrogacy overseas in 2010, arguing it would ”prevent further growth in the overseas commercial surrogacy industry”. While the ban has failed to do this, Ms Burney said it should stay in place as children born via Indian surrogacy will never be able to find out who their birth mother was, and there was no way of ensuring the rights of the surrogate were protected.

The ban has to be reviewed late next year or early 2014. The NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, said that while he sympathised with people who want a family, the ban is ”justified by the need to avoid devaluing human life and dignity, to avoid the exploitation of women, and by the interests of children”.

But surrogacy law experts argue the state ban ignores the reality of the burgeoning commercial surrogacy market, and simply forces people underground and exposes them to more risks.

Professor Jenni Millbank, from the University of Technology, believes Australian authorities should make visa status for children born via commercial surrogacy overseas conditional on meeting certain minimum standards to protect all parties involved.

The federal Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, has asked the Family Law Council to investigate how the Family Law Act could be amended to reflect the growth in children born via surrogacy overseas, reporting back in December 2013.