What is wrong withpro bono? The simple answeris nothing.
This years winner of The Solicitors Pro Bono Groups (SPBG)StudentChallenge Award, run in association with Lawyer 2B, provides ample testimony to the potential rewards, both to the individual and to the community.
Stephen Bartlet-Jones gives up most evenings a week to attend legal advice sessions at Toynbee Hall, gaining experience in providing debt, housing and general legal advice. He was also instrumental in establishing the Noor Bengali Womens Advice session, has learnt Bangla and some Urdu and Hindi to better advise his clients, takes referrals from all over London and gives talks at the East London Mosque on Sharia wills under Islamic law. He has handled a broad range of instructions, from High Court Mareva injunctions to a wifes application to block her husbands second marriage, as well as bringing around 30 matters before the Employment Tribunal.
All this, and hes still a student. A student who, doubtless as a result of these efforts, had a choice of options for pupillage at the conclusion of his studies.
The enlightened education providers such as the College of Law, which won this years first Attorney-Generals Institution Award for the breadth and depth of its pro bono commitment are helping not only to assist the community, but to train better lawyers. And yet so many universities and legal education providers continue to shun the opportunity to become involved, apparently immune to their benefits.
Although this only reflects the continuing malaise at many of the UKs law firms, that situation is improving and most now realise the commercial benefits of a serious pro bono and community programme (even if they do little about it).
After all, pro bono is now on the agenda at most corporates and is often one element under consideration during the procurement process. Some even make it a condition that their panel of legal advisers is committed to pro bono.
There can be no more excuses after all, Kent Law School launched its clinic way back in 1972.
Advice on how to go about setting up a student pro bono scheme is available from the SPBG on 020 7929 5601.