Bus spurs lawyers to ‘get on board’ in pro bono week

National Pro Bono Week geared up last Monday (7 June) with the smooth diesel-throated hum of a bus launch in Trafalgar Square, ahead of 38 varied events promoting the pro bono message throughout England and Wales.

Trafalgar Square offered the public the first glimpse of a specially designed double-decker bus that set off on a tour through London, Bournemouth, Warwick, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bolton and Newcastle, over the course of the week. The bus was a physical representation of the week’s challenge to lawyers to ‘get on board’ in support of pro bono. In addition, lawyers were encouraged to board for pro bono training and, in some locations, free legal advice clinics were held inside the bus.

The third National Pro Bono Week aimed to promote the vast amount of voluntary work and free legal advice already being undertaken and also to encourage lawyers not yet involved to realise the benefits of pro bono work. The week was the result of a combined effort between the Bar Council, the Bar Pro Bono Unit, the Institute of Legal Executives, the Law Society and the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG).

Michael Napier, the Attorney General’s pro bono envoy and senior partner at Irwin Mitchell, took part in organising this year’s National Pro Bono Week. He said: “Each pro bono week has built on the year preceding it, and this year the number of events and general acceptance of the concept has really gained momentum. The bus takes pro bono up a gear and shows it as a truly national concept.
Our hope is that all lawyers with an interest in pro bono work will sign up during the week.” (See The Lawyer Interview).

On Monday, the bus set off from Trafalgar Square to Lincoln’s Inn, running three sessions offering practical advice for lawyers wanting to get involved in pro bono work.

Toynbee Hall was the next stop in order to support an advice clinic. SPBG chief executive Sue Bucknall said: “We took the bus from the heart of the legal community to Toynbee Hall, out to the real consumers of pro bono work who would not have the same kind of access to legal support without pro bono initiatives.”

Over the week, events as diverse as mock trials in Birmingham, the Young Solicitors Group awards, free legal advice sessions for the public and exhibitions and recruitment events were held.

Napier noted that a particular highlight was the bus visiting universities in Warwick and Northumbria, significant destinations due to the current push led by the Attorney General for pro bono opportunities to be available to law students. “At the LPC level there are opportunities for involvement, but there are less opportunities for undergrad students,” said Napier. “Pro bono work would allow students to see real people with real problems, they get to help their first few clients on a pro bono basis, which is always a big moment.
We’re promoting pro bono at an undergrad level in the hope that it will follow on, helping us to push our message out.”