National pro bono scheme set up for employment law sector

The Employment Lawyers Association (ELA) and the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG) this month announced the launch of a national pro bono scheme to link employment lawyers with those in need of advice. It aims to be the UK’s premier mechanism for allocating employment-related pro bono work, with a panel of 30 firms. The groups have created a panel of assessors, all of whom are senior employment lawyers, to review cases and decide the work required, the assistance needed and whether the case has enough merit to proceed.

“Employment law advice is in huge demand and is an area that’s ripe for pro bono,” says Paul Quain, chair of the ELA pro bono committee. “This initiative will create a centralised system that will put those who are interested in helping out on pro bono matters in touch with the real need on the ground. At present there are a number of disparate groups that arrange pro bono advice. Our aim is to bring them together to become the main system for allocating employment-related pro bono work in the country.”

The panel will estimate the number of hours of help required, the level of seniority appropriate for the work and whether a solicitor in a particular area is needed.

The project is part of the LawWorks In Depth Assistance scheme. The panel will be approached in relation to cases that have been judged as meriting pro bono assistance. The legal advice will cover pre-tribunal preparation and advocacy, pre-hearing preparation and straightforward advice. If counsel is required for advocacy, advice or drafting, the Bar Pro Bono Unit (BPBU) will help.

Graham Bucknall, SBPG LawWorks manager, points out that the ELA has always been involved in pro bono and with various LawWorks projects. But he adds: “This new scheme consolidates our relationship, creating an efficient system that will mean more firms are able to be involved and more claimants receive good-quality advice and representation. We hope it will create a benchmark for how to do this kind of pro bono work.”

There are no specific targets for the number of cases taken on, but as Quain points out: “We have targets in terms of the number of firms we want involved, and that’s the 30 firms that, nationwide, are behind the scheme. Our other target is to be able to cover all employment cases that genuinely need pro bono assistance. At the moment, the impression I have is that a lot of solicitors are keen to do pro bono work and there are quite a lot of people looking for help but who just aren’t able to find it.”

The ELA is an administrative organisation but has several key aims. Among them is to be the voice of the employment lawyer, but another important area is pro bono.

“We strongly encourage our members to become involved in this,” says Quain. “But we’re also involved in supporting the Free Representation Unit and the BPBU, and donate £12,500 to both a year. Both organisations have been around for some time doing employment law advice, and the new ELA scheme will work alongside those existing services.”