Pro bono & community action – Browne Jacobson gives aid to victims of violent crime

Midlands firm Browne Jacobson has embarked on a unique pro bono initiative to support victims of violent crime.
Last year, the firm identified a gap in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, whereby victims appealing against their compensation award have no recourse to legal aid. Accordingly, in conjunction with the charity Victim Support, Browne Jacobson is providing free advice and representation to victims appealing to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel. Among the firm’s clients are victims whose award is too low and those with a criminal record – a group prevented from claiming under the scheme. But, according to Richard Murphy, the chair of Browne Jacobson’s pro bono committee, “in many cases, the criminal record is the result of a history of abuse”.
The firm has rolled out the programme in the Midlands with a 100 per cent success rate at hearings. It’s latest victory was an award of almost £18,000 for the victim. The firm The firm’s commitment to pro bono stretches back more than three decades and it has advised the Nottinghamshire-based Portland College for the Disabled for that entire time.
Last year, pro bono committees were set up to co-ordinate existing initiatives and to develop new programmes. The legal pro bono committee does just what the name suggests, while the community action committee coordinates programmes in which non-legal staff can participate. This dual approach has guaranteed widespread participation, with almost half the firm’s 426 staff involved in pro bono and community action work. It currently has 48 lawyers involved in pro bono projects – 18 partners among them. Alongside work for Victim Support, the firm is involved in employment work at Citizens Advice Bureaux, participates in the Solicitors Pro Bono Group, and is affiliated with The Princes’ Trust, providing business advice and mentoring services to newly established companies. It has recently joined ProHelp, a network of 18 law and accountancy firms which provide professional and strategic support to charity groups.
The community action group has decided on this year’s theme, children, which has seen Browne Jacobson staff assisting with reading programmes in schools, working on switchboards at counselling charity Childline and working with local children in planting schemes.The Lawyer verdictBrowne Jacobson’s innovative and varied pro bono programme stands head and shoulders above many in the regions, and indeed, in the City. Novel initiatives, such as work for Victim Support, are an interesting complement to more traditional pro bono work for the Solicitors Pro Bono Unit and employment work at local Citizens Advice Bureaux. Work for The Princes’ Trust and ProHelp utilises the firm’s corporate and transactional expertise, while its sophisticated community action programme involves non-legal staff. The result is an inclusive programme in which all staff can offer meaningful input. In short, the firm’s pro bono programme, with its focus on both legal and non-legal support for businesses and individuals in the local community, is a benchmark for other firms in the region.