My last blog touched upon the culture of blaming claimants and, particularly their lawyers, for pretty well everything. Politicians, government bodies, the media and insurers just love to dish it out in huge helpings.
One thing that hardly ever features in the news is the huge amount of free work done by lawyers in order to maintain some access to justice for ordinary people.
According to the Law Society Gazette, firms provide free or Pro bono work worth an average of about 3% of turnover of all firms - £601m. This is largely done by smaller firms or sole practitioners but large commercial firms also play their part.
Indeed, we are the start of National Pro bono week –
This sort of work can range from attending advice clinics in CABx or Law Centres to conducting heavy litigation at no cost to the client. These statistics will not include the hours of unrecorded free work by way of telephone advice etc. I have mentioned previously that up to 60% of lawyers have provided free advice at some time –
This barely merits a mention in mainstream media. Lawyers and Judges have also been seen walking through our major cities raising funds for agencies providing free legal assistance to support the stalwart work of North West Legal Support Trust and London Legal Support Trust.
The Legal Profession is doing as much as it can to plug the gaping hole in Access to Justice, caused by recent cuts to Legal Aid. But it cannot and should not be seen as the answer. There is a danger that politicians will see what the lawyers are doing for nothing and see that as a ‘job well done’. Why should the state fund Access to Justice if lawyers are doing it anyway? This is a real dilemma. If we do nothing people are left unrepresented. If we do something then the cuts will not be reversed.
Free work by lawyers can only do so much. It can never come close to replacing a properly funded legal aid scheme. It is no exaggeration to say that the advice sector is now a waste land. Agencies are closing by the day. Others are having to turn away all but the most urgent of cases.
Why should ordinary people with a genuine case have to find a lawyer who will do it for free? In what other profession would that sort of expectation exist? It is very disheartening that none of the major political parties have shown the slightest interest in reversing these cuts.
The profession will do what it can. But this can only scratch the surface.
It is time that the mainstream media and politicians took responsibility for an issue where there is desperate need even if there are few votes…