Government urges pro bono protocol

The Government is asking law firms to sign up to a pro bono protocol that for the first time defines what legal pro bono should be.

Clifford Chance is the only City firm to sign the protocol so far, which was issued by the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s pro bono working party. Other firms regard it as too prescriptive.

However, US firm Covington & Burling is understood to be ready to sign up and the College of Law has already signed.

The protocol sets out basic standards for legal pro bono work. It defines pro bono as “legal advice or representation provided by lawyers to individuals and community groups who cannot afford to pay for that advice or representation and where public funding is not available.”

It states that pro bono legal work should only be undertaken by lawyers who are adequately trained for the purpose, or who are adequately supervised. It adds that trainees should only do pro bono work under supervision and that pro bono work should not be done without the right insurance in place.

“This is prescriptive in that it sets a quality standard, and high standards are what we want,” said Sue Bucknall, chief executive of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group and a member of the Attorney General’s working party.