Fraser Robertson is a barrister at John Toohey Chambers who shares the role of pro bono coordinator for the WA Bar with Elspeth Hensler of Francis Burt Chambers.
Fraser has taken numerous migration and family law pro bono referrals from Law Access and the Courts and also plays a key co-ordination role at the WA Bar in the delivery of pro bono legal services. We asked Fraser what drives him to contribute in this way.
1) Why are you so passionate about pro bono legal work?
I was fortunate to migrate to Australia when I was young. I came from a town in Scotland where university might only have been for the top few students in my class. The lifestyle and expectation was to find a job, rather than become educated. Coming to Australia broke that cycle. I attended an Australian High School and then Murdoch University. I was the first person in my family to attend university. I am indebted to Australia for my education. It is that sense of indebtedness that drives my passion for pro bono legal work. It is my way to give back to people who are less fortunate than me. It is a debt that I will never be able to properly repay.
2) What are the main challenges faced by barristers taking on pro bono referrals?
The main challenge to barristers is having sufficient time. That challenge can be ameliorated to some degree with the assistance of an instructing solicitor. However, the reality is that the work of preparing for hearings and submissions is time consuming. There is, however, scope for multiple barristers to jointly accept referrals and work together on matters. Jointly accepting a referral can be a good opportunity to work with someone who you have not yet had the pleasure of working with before.
3) What message do you have for barristers who are considering taking on a pro bono referral?
It is often said that lawyers have a social responsibility to use their skills for the betterment of society as a whole. That is usually the rallying call of organisations seeking lawyers to do pro bono work. I agree with the sentiment. However, I also respect the right of people to choose whether they engage in pro bono work. My message is simple: accept pro bono work because you want to help, not because you are expected to help.