Community action and pro bono LawWorks for Community Groups gets funding boost

One of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group’s four main projects has just received significant funding to enable its unique work for charities to continue for another two years.
LawWorks for Community Groups, which has been running for two years helping organisations unable to afford legal advice, has been given funding by Vodafone and several law firms.
The funds will enable it to keep paying the project’s two managers, Heidi Newbigging and Mercedes Mendez Ribas, for a further two years. It will also help pay for publicity and management of the group’s database.
The LawWorks project provides advice to a range of organisations in the UK, including environment, disability and children’s groups. It also assists victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. The group provides legal advice on such matters as new leases, but all litigation and employment tribunal matters are referred to the Bar Pro Bono Unit or the Free Representation Unit.
In its two years, the project has provided the equivalent of £1.2m of legal work. Some 35 law firms are signed up to it and around 250 lawyers have assisted 200 community groups.
The group is working on several large projects, providing massive assistance to organisations most in need of free legal advice. It is well coordinated, with serious matters requiring advocacy being referred to outside bodies such as the Bar Pro Bono Unit. Judging by the volume of work undertaken by solicitors working on pro bono matters, it is likely to be inundated with referrals. It is good to witness retired senior litigators using their skills to help those in need.
The Solicitors Pro Bono Group, which is managed by chief executive Susan Bucknall and a 15-member board of trustees, currently has four projects on the go. It has also just launched a pilot scheme, which involves a mediation project run by retired Slaughter and May partner John Hine and retired Allen & Overy partner John Kendall. This is open to all trained mediators to provide free mediation advice for those seeking it.
The group has a students project and there is ongoing research into the level of university involvement in pro bono. The group’s LawWorks Web, which has 148 volunteers involved and does 4,200 pro bono hours a year, provides people who call in at advice centres with online advice. To date, it has helped 85 individuals in some 65 advice agencies in England and Wales. LawWorks Clinics, which has 2,800 lawyers providing advice in more than 25 clinics, is the group’s oldest project. It provides face-to-face advice at drop-in centres, Citizens Advice Bureaux and advice agencies. These clinics run four times a week.