Charlotte Parkinson advises experienced practitioners and wannabe-lawyers alike where and how to volunteer their free time.
At a time when the government is increasing cuts to legal aid, the demand for pro bono services is increasing. While pro bono cannot completely ‘fill the gap’ for the legal aid system, as a profession we are committed to helping the most vulnerable in society. But it is not always clear what opportunities are out there.
LawWorks is one of the country’s largest national pro bono charities for solicitors. They match practitioners with pro bono projects, whether that be helping individuals or advising small charities. By way of example, LawWorks collaborate with Macmillan Cancer Support to provide employment-related support for those with cancer and their carers.
Universities in your area may have law clinics which rely on the support of legal professionals. This support usually involves assisting law students with their research to be able to provide advice to a client on a specific issue. Some clinics also have specialist focus areas where experienced practitioners volunteer their time. Liverpool Law Clinic, for example, delivers a specialist immigration and asylum service that offers free representation by immigration solicitors with help from students.
A different approach to pro bono is to educate society about their legal rights and responsibilities. Four academic institutions in Leeds have recently collaborated to launch StreetLeeds. The project aims to work with local community groups by delivering presentations on issues such as housing, family, consumer rights, and asylum. The project is asking for legal professionals to sign up as mentors to be matched with an area of law and assist a small group of students with their research and presentation skills.
Another approach to educating our society is the ‘Lawyers in Schools’ programme. The project places volunteer lawyers into schools in economically deprived areas to teach children aged 14 and15 about how the law can impact on their daily lives. Volunteers deliver lessons to classes of around 30 pupils educating them on topics such as social media, youth justice, and the legal implications of sexting. A number of firms including Addleshaw Goddard, Baker & McKenzie, and Weil Gotshal & Manges, have all signed up to be partners of the programme.
The Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, hinted earlier this year towards the introduction of a 1 per cent tax levy on big City firms to better fund our justice system. This idea seems to have legs if plans to scrap the criminal court charge come to fruition. Following the Annual Bar Conference on 17 October, which discussed this proposal, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: ‘Those who have benefitted financially need to do more to protect access to justice for all and we are discussing with the profession how this can be taken forward.’
Regardless of the outcome, the importance of pro bono cannot be understated. And there are many ways you can get involved.
Charlotte Parkinson is the student representative on the executive committee of the Junior Lawyers’ Division (JLD)
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 10 November 2015, and is reproduced by kind permission.