With National Pro Bono Week taking place as of yesterday, Francine Ryan, lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at the Open University, talks to Lawyer Monthly about Pro Bono work, getting involved, and the values behind Pro Bono legal work.
National Pro Bono Week takes place from 6th to 11th November 2017, it is an annual event in its sixteenth year, sponsored by the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). It unites the legal profession in a celebration of the commitment and dedication to supporting individuals, charities and local communities.
National Pro Bono Week is a great opportunity to highlight the incredible volunteering provided by law students and legal professionals in their communities. Lawyers are often maligned by the media and yet the value of free legal advice provided by solicitors in 2015-16 was estimated at 1.8 million hours . National Pro Bono Week promotes and raises awareness of pro bono and hopefully inspires more people to get involved and encourages the expansion of pro bono across the legal sector.
What is pro bono?
Pro bono means for the ‘public good’ and for lawyers it is the provision of free legal services to those who cannot afford to pay. There are a number of ways lawyers are involved in pro bono from volunteering in Law Centres, supervising law students in law clinics, or providing free representation in court.
How can you get involved?
Legal professionals and law students can all take part in National Pro Bono Week as there are events happening across the country. So, if you fancy channelling your inner quiz master you can take part in the Great Legal Quiz on November 8th which is fundraising for legal advice charities or if you want to be inspired listen to Edgar Cahn’s ‘Pro bono reflections of a civil rights veteran’ on 9th November.
Law students should check out the Student Pro Bono Conference at the University of Manchester on Saturday 11th November. This is a fantastic opportunity to find out more about pro bono and network with legal practitioners involved in delivering pro bono legal advice.
There is more information on National Pro Bono Week at www.nationalprobonocentre.org.uk with details of the events that are running during the week.
There will be lots of media coverage in National Pro Bono Week showcasing the commitment of the legal profession and many law schools to providing free legal services. It also provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the access to justice crisis and the plight of many vulnerable individuals who are without legal representation because of the significant reduction in the availability of legal aid.
Pro bono is more than National Pro Bono Week
National pro bono week is all about celebrating the valuable pro bono work provided by the legal community but it is also about fostering a sense of commitment to supporting access to justice. It is an opportunity to highlight the importance of pro bono to local communities.
Law students should relish the chance to get involved in pro bono. Law schools offer a variety of ways students can support individuals, charities and community groups by providing free legal advice in clinics, delivering Street law presentations or working on a miscarriage of justice project. For example, at The Open University law students provide an online legal advice clinic.
Cuts to legal aid have had a devastating impact on vulnerable individuals and although pro bono should never be a substitute for legal aid, law students have an increasingly important role to play in the provision of legal advice and public legal education to ensure access to justice.
Pro bono offers a fantastic opportunity for law students to support their local community but also to develop professional skills that will be invaluable in their legal career. Participation in pro bono will hopefully ensure law students develop an ongoing commitment to being involved in pro bono projects.
So, this week, reflect on how you can get involved in pro bono by engaging in events through National Pro Bono Week and beyond. Don’t forget to tweet about what you’re doing or what is going on in your local area #WeDoProBono.