The Case for Pro Bono

16 November, 2018

There’s a good chance that when you decided that you might like to be a lawyer, you did so because you liked the idea of helping people. Perhaps your interest in the law was sparked when family members went through a difficult divorce, you had a problem at work or your landlord was taking advantage.

However, for whatever reason there’s a good chance you will end up in a commercial role, in which a typical day might involve a company acquisition or assisting a property business deliver a new mixed-use development.

And whilst big ticket deals are extremely interesting, exciting and rewarding, I do not believe that lawyers should forget the reasons why they chose to be one in the first place, and this is where pro bono comes in.

What is pro bono?

Pro bono is legal work provided free of charge to individuals, charities or community groups who cannot afford legal representation and there is no alternative means of funding available. The sort of issues covered by pro bono work are wide ranging,

such as the US Muslim travel ban which separated families (which saw lawyers setting up pro bono clinics at airports) to issues affecting individuals where perhaps people have been dismissed unfairly from their jobs, or have been evicted from their family home.

There really isn’t a limit on the breadth of opportunities for lawyers to add value to society, by offering their skills for free.

Why is pro bono important?

There is something very unique about the concept of pro bono. Its full name is “pro bono publico” meaning “for the public good”, and unlike a sponsored run or similar challenge pro bono allows us to use our skills, rather than our money, to  help  our communities. For me, the key motivation is to help people get access to justice and (speaking slightly more selfishly) there’s something ever so satisfying about knowing you are directly helping those who are in need. 

What can I do?

There are lots of ways to get involved, whether you are a qualified lawyer or not. If you are still a student, why not get involved with the Citizens Advice Bureau, or your university’s law society pro bono programme (if they have one). In fact, the university law societies often have great opportunities such as innocence projects which you may not always get the opportunity to do again in practice, depending on which firm you join.

If you are already in a law firm, see whether they have a pro bono scheme already and speak to either the co-ordinator or the committee who run it. Alternatively, if your firm doesn’t already do pro bono work, why not try and set it up? There are plenty of charities which you can look to for help to get you started, one of the most well known being LawWorks who can assist you in finding suitable opportunities.