British Aerospace's legal department has become the first in-house team to sign up to the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG), a move the group hopes will herald a major increase in pro bono work done by in-house lawyers in the UK.
BAe deputy legal director Terence Black said he will invite his outside legal advisers to join a US-style "partnering" scheme. In-house teams in the US often link up with external firms to work together on pro bono projects.
Black said he had set a September deadline to establish such a pilot project with a law firm. He said in-house legal teams faced "a barrier" in that their expertise tended not to be in classic pro bono areas such as welfare benefits, family employment law. BAe's 40 in-house lawyers are principally company-commercial specialists.
There were two other problems, he said: "In-house lawyers do not have compulsory insurance cover and solicitors' practice rules suggest employed solicitors can only work for their employers."
The SPBG will lobby the Law Society on British Aerospace's behalf to see how the rules relate to pro bono work.
SPBG director Peta Sweet said: "British Aerospace should be congratulated for taking a real lead among in-house teams on this issue."
She hoped more in-house departments would join, and pointed to the US "where they are streets ahead".