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Pro bono work is sometimes seen as the preserve of major London firms, but now DLA’s Manchester office has thrown down the gauntlet to its Southern rivals.
In conjunction with LawWorks North, the Northern branch of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group, the firm’s Manchester office has put its weight behind a comprehensive survey of pro bono activity in the North West.
For several weeks, 23 trainees worked on the project, compiling and analysing data from more than 780 lawyers across the region.
The results show that in 2003, nearly 16,000 hours of legal advice were given free of charge across Greater Manchester. They also challenged the perception of pro bono work as a London-centric activity. The research found that 39 per cent of solicitors, barristers and in-house legal teams in the region were involved in pro bono work.
Of those who did not participate in pro bono, 57 per cent said they would consider pro bono opportunities in the future if they were given some guidance on how to approach the topic.
DLA’s Manchester managing partner Roy Beckett is leading the firm’s pro bono charge in the North West. A member of the advisory counsel of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group’s LawWorks North initiative, he supervised the research project.
Beckett says: “We believe that corporate social responsibility is an essential part of a lawyer’s role.” And, as DLA’s pro bono coordinator Elaine Radford points out, pro bono has benefits for staff too. “It gives lawyers a sense of citizenship, and has obvious training benefits,” she says.
The firm’s pro bono activity is not limited to London. Radford says: “There’s a perception that pro bono is the preserve of the City firms with bigger budgets, who make pro bono a part of their business structure. Often, in the regions, people are not sure how to set up a programme.”
In Manchester, as well as its involvement in LawWorks North, DLA has been active in the Prince’s Trust for the past six years, providing free legal advice to small local businesses. Among its clients is a lace maker who found herself the victim of an advertising heist, and an independent film maker trying to extract payment for work from a major studio.
In the 2002-03 financial year, DLA devoted more than 7,000 hours to pro bono activity – more than £1m of legal advice.
The Lawyer verdict
The research project with LawWorks North will enable a long-term pro bono strategy for the entire region. As LawWorks North coordinator Clare Kelly says: “These findings give us a really strong platform to build on the levels of pro bono activity being carried out in Greater Manchester.”
Already boasting an impressive pro bono programme, DLA is now evangelising. Strong leadership, combined with a genuine and imaginative commitment to pro bono work, ensure that DLA’s Manchester office is an example to other firms in the region.