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John Elliot, the president of the Law Society of Scotland, wants to see a permanent pro bono unit for Scotland which would co-ordinate the handling of public interest cases for solicitors.
Elliot told The Lawyer that he had previously been opposed to the formalisation of pro bono work because he considered it might encourage solicitors to do the minimum necessary.
But hearing about working pro bono schemes at a recent conference in Melbourne the Australian Law Convention has converted him.
He added that he was particularly impressed with the Public Interest Law Clearing House (Pilch) in Victoria. It is a charitable company run full time by a solicitor to which the law firm members in the state each contribute annually. It sifts applications from the public, determining which are public interest cases and farming them out to solicitors who contribute; barristers are also included.
Its a very interesting approach, said Elliot, because it allies pro bono work to the concept of public interest, which, he believes, is something that the public can relate to.
His conversion to pro bono work comes at a time when a new solicitors group south of the border the Solicitors Pro Bono Group is attempting to co-ordinate the work being done in England and Wales.
He said: We will have to consider whether the Law Society of Scotland itself should set it up or whether groups of solicitors should organise it.
Perhaps the societys encouragement is necessary to get interest going.
He outlined his change of mind over pro bono work in his column in the societys journal this month when he praised Scottish solicitors for the amount of pro bono work they do.