The Law Society has displayed a startling lack of leadership on the issue of pro bono work. Despite the obvious public relations benefits, there is a need for a unit to co-ordinate the various schemes run by law firms.
The Bar has already taken action – it set up a pro bono unit earlier this year. But the Law Society has shown little interest in taking a similar step. After setting up an initial working party two years ago, the silence has been deafening.
Many law firms have carried out work for free for poor litigants or good causes for some time. And in the City, there is a concerted effort among firms to do such work.
The Law Society argues that formalising pro bono work would give the wrong signals to a Government intent on cutting the legal aid budget. It also argues that legal aid lawyers provide a subsidised legal aid service anyway.
Whatever the society says, the fact is that a pro bono unit sends out all the right signals to both consumers and to lawyers. The society is way behind other organisations in recognising this.
If nothing else, such a pro bono unit could assist in the coordination of the various schemes currently handled by firms. The well-heeled practices would be only too happy to assist in funding the project. In fact, one major city firm is known to have offered to set up a unit for the Law Society.
The meeting organised by Andrew Phillips of Bates Wells & Braithwaite on 2 November is a step in the right direction.
Solicitors need all the help with image they can get. The fact that they are getting little recognition for what they do on the pro bono front may be partly attributed to the fact that there is a lack of leadership on the matter.
Surely it is time for the profession either to follow the Bar's lead or seek some form of cooperation with it on the matter.