Bankstown boy and graduate of Hurlstone Agricultural High School, with no family background in the legal profession, David Hillard studied law at the University of Sydney with the support of a Revesby Workers Club scholarship.
He joined Clayton Utz in 1991 and worked as a commercial litigator before leaving in 1994 to join the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW.
He also became a stand-up comic, Theatresports personality and once accidentally addressed an anti-Russian uprising in Tatarstan.
In 1997 David returned to Clayton Utz to become pro bono director, the first such role at a national law firm in Australia.
In 2005 he became the firm’s first pro bono partner.
Hillard heads a Clayton Utz pro bono practice of over 40,000 hours of free legal work per year, which has assisted thousands of people unable to afford a lawyer or obtain legal aid and hundreds of not for profit community organisations that support disadvantaged people.
The practice has made a particular commitment to regional and remote communities, with work ranging from acting for indigenous women in Walgett in their compensation claims for sexual assault to securing Andrew Mallard’s release from jail with the High Court quashing his murder conviction.
David was instrumental in creating the voluntary pro bono benchmark, which became the national aspirational pro bono target of at least 35 pro bono hours per lawyer per year.
He helped transform the way corporate law firms across Australia see their professional responsibility to address the significant unmet need for access to justice.
Describe yourself in three words.
Not good at maths.
What’s your favourite film?
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
Professionally – Glenn Eggleton and Colin Loveday, who nurtured, encouraged and supported my pro bono ideals from the start of my career.
What occupation would you like to have, if you weren’t a lawyer?
I would be writing eloquent, funny, moving plays which reveal profound insights into the human condition.
What is your favourite piece of music?
The Saturday Boy by Billy Bragg.
What is your most recognised talent?
Making people smile.
What is your greatest fear?
That one day I really will wake up at high school in my pyjamas in the middle of an HSC English exam.
What words or phrases do you overuse?
I have a reputation for retelling the same stories. Apologies to anyone who has read these answers before.
What is your greatest regret?
That I cannot get the candle to burn at both ends.
Whom do you envy and why?
I married the most wonderful woman, have two incredible children, and got to invent a job that I love and makes a real difference in people’s lives. What would be the point of wasting time on envy?
What is your most disturbing personal obsession?
An almost granular obsession with the Clayton Utz pro bono statistics.
What’s your most glamorous feature?
Rose (aged 7) and Tom (aged 4). I wonder what parents of ugly children do? Maybe I should ask my mother ...
If you were a foodstuff, what would you be?
An anchovy. Not to everyone’s taste, I know.
What human quality do you most distrust?
The wearing of bowties.
What would you change about Australia?
Two things immediately – improve access to legal aid in civil and family law, and remove the institutionalised disadvantage experienced by indigenous people.
Whom or what do you consider overrated?
The excuses offered up by our legal professional societies for not being stronger in their support of pro bono work as a cornerstone of our profession. Let’s just say that pro bono work for disadvantaged individuals and the non-profit organisations which support them is something all good lawyers should do, and get on with it.
How would you like to die?
Laughing. At my 120th birthday party. Surrounded by great, great, grand-children.
What would your epitaph say?
“I’m just stepping outside. I may be some time.”
What comes into your mind when you shut your eyes and think of the word “law”?
Fundamental to making civil society civil.