What is “Pro Bono” Legal Work?

“Pro Bono” is a shortened version for the full phrase “pro bono publico”, which is a Latin phrase meaning “for the public good”.

In legal circles, pro bono literally means “for free”. In other words, legal work which is carried out without any cost to the person being represented.

What is “Pro Bono” Legal Work?

Pro bono legal work is a significant part of the legal profession as not everyone can afford the services of a solicitor. Legal fees should never hinder anyone from obtaining justice. While in the UK there is such a thing as legal aid, it does not cover every eventuality, and that is where, in certain circumstances, the offer of pro bono legal work can be a lifeline.

An example where pro bono work is carried out is where there has been a potential miscarriage of justice. Frequently, incarceration can also mean financial ruin as well as a loss of personal freedom. Under such circumstances, a defendant will not have enough money available for a solicitor, plus a more costly barrister, to plead their cause in the courts.

From the point of view of a firm of solicitors, pro bono work is also good PR. It is not unusual for solicitors and law firms to have a reputation for charging substantial sums of money for their work. This is not the time and place to try and justify legal fees, but carrying out work on a pro bono basis is a solicitor’s way of acknowledging that not everyone can afford legal services, even though, in theory, we all have the right to them. 

More recent cuts to legal aid have made access to legal help harder for even more people to the point where, according to the Law Society, 1.3 million hours of legal work were carried out pro bono by solicitors in the UK. The Law Society has an annual Excellence Award which is given in recognition of outstanding pro bono work.

Beyond PR, there is also the element of professional job satisfaction. Solicitors do not enter the law purely because it is a well-paid job. Many do so because they like to see the law of the land used and upheld, and pro bono work pares back legal work to its grassroots.

Pro bono work is also an ideal opportunity for young and inexperienced lawyers to gain experience. An inexperienced solicitor is not going to take on the case of a wrongful murder conviction pro bono, but they may play a role within a team of solicitors who are all working on a particular case. Their work can be supervised, and the outcome of any appeal against a sentence will not be affected by their lack of experience.

Offering your services pro bono also provides opportunities to raise the lawyers’ personal profile and also expand their networks, while a good result obtained for a client they are working for pro bono can be a tremendous morale booster not just for themselves, but also their fellow colleagues.

Of course, pro bono legal work does not have to be a major, or even a minor legal case. Frequently, many lawyers provide legal advice on a pro bono basis, work for non-profit organisations and will do document preparation or research pro bono. You should also note that the Citizens Advice Bureau and many Law Centres have drop-in legal clinics that are run solely by lawyers operating on a pro bono basis.

Aside from clients making direct approaches, there are several alternative sources of work for solicitors who would like to do pro bono work. LawWorks helps solicitors provide free services to community groups, while the National Pro Bono Centre regularly publishes a list of opportunities for pro bono work. For those who are newly joined members of the legal ranks, the Free Representation Unit matches clients who need legal representation in tribunals with junior lawyers. At the other end of the scale, We Are Advocate is a website where barristers can find opportunities for pro bono work.

It should be noted that in cases where a solicitor or barrister are working pro bono for a client, and they win a case where costs are awarded against the other party, those costs will be based on what the fee would have been had that solicitor’s or barrister’s client been paying a full fee. 

These costs are awarded under pro bono costs orders (section 194 orders, so named after section 194 of the Legal Services Act 2007). That fee is not then given to the solicitor or barrister though; it is awarded to the Access to Justice Foundation, a charitable organisation which then distributes that money to other organisations which specialise in providing pro bono legal services. 

For those agencies which specialise in providing pro bono legal services, they can be directly awarded up to 50% of any costs awarded in a case where one of their solicitors or barristers ins involved. 

For those who perform pro bono work, they are still covered by professional insurance indemnity, though you would do well if being represented ‘pro bono’ to check what that insurance covers.

If you have found yourself in need of either legal advice or the services of a solicitor for a legal matter, find a lawyer on Qredible.co.uk and get the law on your side!

Every case and every person’s circumstances are different, so our best advice would be to speak with one of our solicitors, and they will be able to advise you if they can provide you with assistance, pro bono.


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