Pro bono work needs greater support

The Labour Party has made its voice heard on pro bono work on many occasions – Paul Boateng's speech at the London Solicitors Litigation Association annual dinner last week was one more call to arms.

Boateng acknowledged the major contribution which some firms were making in this area but emphasised that more would have to follow suit. The comments followed a warning that Labour would not make any more money available for legal aid.

While lawyers must vigorously oppose any efforts to substitute pro bono work for legal aid work, there are considerable gaps to fill. And Boateng's calls will undoubtedly provide fodder for those who argue that the Law Society must take a more active role in co-ordinating activities in the area.

After all, it is easy for the larger City firms to find projects to support and to provide lawyers to participate. However, for smaller less well-resourced firms, it is an altogether different matter.

Currently, large numbers of City firms are making an invaluable contribution – figures from the Law Society's research and planning unit estimate that 75 per cent of the firms surveyed carried out some pro bono work.

And only recently Herbert Smith received recognition for its activities. It would be invidious to single out any other City firms, suffice to say that those not involved are the exception. But the smaller firms which already do pro bono work or those which want to become involved are faced with greater practical difficulties.

While some small firms like Simons Muirhead Burton already do more than their fair share, surely it is time the Law Society recognised its duty to provide a support service for those firms which have the commitment to do free work but not the resources to implement it.