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Thursday, 1 December 2011

Pro Bono - have we found what we're looking for? (update)

I first wrote this last year before the full extent of the legal aid cuts was known.

Since LASPO received Royal Assent the Law Society has called upon all layers to increase the amount of Pro Bono work that they do.

 This is of course nothing to do with any U2 fan club.

In simple terms pro bono refers to  the provision of free legal services by the legal profession. Last year Michael Napier QC talked about setting aspirational hours of pro bono work. He says that his own firm Irwin Mitchell encourages its lawyers to do 14 hours of pro bono work a year.

Most lawyers I know, will probably do more than that per month. Much of the work done in preparation for public funding in a clinical negligence in the case is done at no charge. This can involve anything from the screening of new matters to initial investigation work in order to establish whether or not this is a potentially viable the case. How often do we advise potential clients in person and by telephone of the alternatives to litigation and to set them on the right path? This is often also the case in employment and criminal injuries cases. 

In addition to this and many lawyers do huge amounts of voluntary work; attending advice sessions at citizens advice bureaux and law centres. Many Courts also have a resource for free legal advice manned by volunteers.

What concerns me here is that the politicians could use up all of this talk about pro bono work as an excuse to justify cuts in public funding. The reality is that lawyers will always do their bit ; in fact they do a lot more than a bit!

This should not be seen as a replacement for a properly funded legal aid scheme giving equal access to justice to all citizens.

Of course it might be necessary for lawyers to do even more free work if this is the only alternative to a total collapse of our court system. With this in mind it is interesting to note the comments from Lady Hale of the Supreme Court indicating that these cuts are a false economy.

So I think we should expect the amount of unpaid work done by lawyers to increase but this should not deflect us from the tireless and continuing opposition to the cuts.