Should Pro Bono be made compulsory for all lawyers?

This week is National Pro Bono Week. It is an annual occasion to acknowledge and celebrate the precious voluntary contributions of lawyers giving free legal aid to those in need.


What is Pro Bono?

Pro Bono is a Latin phrase “pro bono publico”, meaning “for the public good”. Pro bono is the provision of free legal assistance to those who can’t afford to pay or can’t access legal aid. It involves lawyers giving up their time voluntarily for people who need legal help and offer their expert skills for the benefit of the community. In some countries, a set number of pro bono “hours” is compulsory while in others, a lawyer is only allowed to undertake pro bono case unless the client is a family member.

How does pro bono benefit lawyers?

Group involvement tests and strengthens teamwork skills and also develop their leadership skills. When lawyers interact with people from different sectors of society, it helps them develop greater personal confidence and useful skills, such as negotiation, advocacy and public speaking. Volunteering also allows lawyers to expand their networks and raise awareness of their profile. In short, pro bono is an excellent way to gain legal experience.

Why lawyers do pro bono work?

For some lawyers, it’s the passion for serving the community while for others, it’s for the exposure. Either way, the work done by the lawyers are free. Winning a case may mean more business later when the lawyer will expect to get paid. In the short term, especially new and upcoming lawyer sees the pro bono work as an investment for the future. Large law firms look at pro bono work as a public relations or marketing opportunity. Some lawyers believe they have a moral and professional obligation to help people who otherwise would not receive effective legal representation.

Does a pro bono lawyer get paid?

A lawyer who works pro bono does not get paid for the commitment on the case. To cover the loss of income, lawyers often cover the pro bono cases through charges to paying clients. Others work on a “no win, no fee” basis. They only get paid if they win the case. However, some lawyers are very picky as they only choose to work on a case that has a good chance of winning.

How can you find a pro bono lawyer?

Pro bono lawyers are hard to reach; however not impossible to find. As a starting place, you could contact your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau or a lawyer you have previously consulted but who you were unable to afford. You’d have to find a solicitor who specialises in the field you are looking to get assistance in. Find a lawyer on that provide a “First Appointment Free” service. Take the opportunity to find out if they are willing to take your case on a pro bono basis. If the lawyer is passionate about your query, they may agree to offer their service for free.

Should Pro Bono be made compulsory for all lawyers?

Government policy concerning publicly funded legal assistance is determined mainly by economic factors with less attention given to accessing justice. The demand for pro bono legal advice seems to have increased in recent years as the number of people who are ineligible for legal aid but cannot afford legal support has risen. Pro bono work should be promoted amongst qualified solicitors and students; to gain valuable skills and gives access to people who cannot afford them.

Some lawyers hate the idea that the government could possibly make pro bono compulsory in the future; especially for small law firms and freelancers who do not have the resources; unlike large law firms where junior lawyers are tasked at doing it. This could appear that the government is helping to ensure all citizens have access to justice when, in fact, it could just be helping their coffers by cutting down on legal aid.

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