New Figures Reveal Barristers’ Commitment to Pro Bono

As Pro Bono Week gets underway, new Bar Council figures reveal that a record high of one in every four barristers practising in England and Wales undertook pro bono work in 2018.

The numbers, which have never been shared publicly before, demonstrate the growing commitment of individual barristers to fighting inequality in the legal system. Huge cuts to legal aid introduced by the government in 2013 left thousands of desperate people unable to afford a lawyer and facing the prospect of going to court alone. Whilst pro bono cannot substitute for a properly funded legal aid system, the figures show the important contribution made by volunteer lawyers.

The vast majority of barristers volunteer their time through the matching service provided by legal charity Advocate (the new name for the Bar Pro Bono Unit). New figures show that barristers dedicated over 10,000 hours of legal help in 2018 through Advocate, which equates to just under £2.25 million in uncharged fees. Over 4,000 barristers use this service, responding to the demand created by over 2,000 applications for help received every year.

Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar said: “I am delighted to acknowledge the valuable work done by many busy barristers, who give of their time freely to support those who would not otherwise be able to enforce their legal rights. Pro bono work is essential because of the limits of public funding. Those who do pro bono work provide a vital public service. I am very grateful to all involved.”

Three barristers’ chambers are so concerned about the lack of access to justice that over 70% of their members are signed up to volunteer through the Advocate panel; Cloisters, 11 King’s Bench Walk and 3 Raymond Buildings. Cloisters alone has over 86% of its members signed up and were last year’s winners of Advocate’s Pro Bono Chambers of the Year award.

Other sets, like Radcliffe and Littleton, are innovating to encourage their members to engage with pro bono, with Radcliffe using measuring and monitoring tools, launching a pro bono newsletter and setting up internal rotas to cover the Chancery Bar Litigant in Person Support Scheme (CLIPS).

Fiona Fitzgerald, Chief Executive of Radcliffe Chambers said: “As a chambers we are committed to giving back. Pro bono is at the heart of our social responsibility programme. We are involved in many initiatives and I know from our members many believe they gain as much from being involved as they give.”

Littleton has created a new committee in chambers with a remit to review CSR activity as well as looking at how to improve social mobility at the Bar, equality, diversity and pro bono work. The set has created a points system to record all non-remunerative contributions (including pro bono work), as an encouragement to all members to contribute wherever they can.

Chambers Director, Liz Dux, said: “Individual Barristers at Littleton often do a significant amount of pro bono work without us knowing about it.  We felt that if we recorded these activities as a Chambers, it might encourage others to do likewise and would also assist us in combining our efforts to greater effect.”

It is a shift that the legal directories are also aware of, with The Legal 500 encouraging chambers to provide details on their pro bono initiatives in the practice area overview section of their 2021 submissions template, so sets can report on their commitment to this vital part of practice. Sets are also able to have a dedicated pro bono tab on their chambers profile pages.

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