UK needs shift in pro bono culture

I read the feature on pro bono (The Lawyer, 7 February) with some interest. Those of us closely involved in the pro bono movement in this country will have recognised very familiar points, particularly the comparison with the pro bono movement in the US.

There have always been clear arguments for using the US as a model in terms of what the ABA has achieved and the management of pro bono in law firms.

But beyond this it would be simplistic to say that the US has all the answers. There are clear differences in culture, both within and across law firms, as well as in terms of volunteering more generally, which need to be appreciated. Clear examples are in the way US firms work together on pro bono, sharing ideas and information. Also in the way that senior figures across the profession show commitment to and leadership on pro bono, in word and deed.

I have spent the last three years working to achieve a cultural shift on pro bono in this country. The key to achieving this are the lessons on leadership and establishing mechanisms for instilling pro bono commitment at the start of careers in the law.

I am convinced the greatest cultural impact can be achieved by working with law students, which is why I have been advising the College of Law on the setting up of student pro bono clinics across the college and, ultimately, into the wider law school sector.

Details of this plan – which has already received strong endorsement from firms, Government and other key players in the pro bono field – will be announced in the coming weeks. The plan offers an opportunity for the whole profession to support an initiative that will ultimately change the culture of pro bono in this country. In time, such an initiative could potentially create a pro bono culture where the profession in this country can compare favourably with the US.

Peta Sweet, consultant on pro bono and related issues