Pro bono chief sets out agenda

The first full-time director of the Solicitors' Pro Bono Group (SPBG) has pledged to turn it into a “national focus for pro bono work”.

Peta Sweet, news editor of Solicitors Journal, will take up the post in September.

A legal journalist and qualified solicitor, Sweet will be responsible for promoting the group, developing guidelines on pro bono work and liaising with bodies that already provide free legal services.

The SPBG was created last year to promote and co-ordinate solicitor pro bono work.

The initiative was prompted by the frustration felt by several leading lawyers at the Law Society's historic unwillingness to organise a national pro bono scheme because of fears it may give the Government an excuse to cut back on legal aid.

Among the firms that have given the group their backing are Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Dibb Lupton Alsop and Bates Wells & Braithwaite.

The group, which is shortly to receive charitable status, aims to support solicitors who already offer pro bono work and to encourage other solicitors to start doing so.

It is currently being run by donations from leading law firms, mostly from the City, but the group hopes to obtain financial support from solicitors throughout the country.

“The SPBG will, for the first time, create the potential for a coherent, national focus for pro bono work undertaken by solicitors,” said Sweet.

“It is excellent news both for the profession, in building upon the significant amount of pro bono work already being undertaken by solicitors throughout the country, and for consumers of legal services.”

Tony Willis, chair of the group's executive committee and a partner at Clifford Chance, said: “The dream of those starting this initiative will become a reality even faster than we hoped.

“In Peta the SPBG has found someone with an understanding of the legal media and the profession, coupled with an extraordinary commitment to making this project work.”

Sweet will be based in the group's new offices at 15 St Swithin's Lane in London.