On Wednesday (19 July) the Law Society hosted the ABA's session promoting pro bono in a global environment. The session, supported by 22 London law firms, was an excellent opportunity to discuss the growth of pro bono in two jurisdictions.
There is a view that UK firms are not as committed to pro bono as US firms. It was heartening to see how far UK firms have come in the past five years. While there are some problems, notably making space for pro bono in busy working lives, this is common to both the UK and US. Ronald Tabak, special counsel to Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, said he had been unaware of the variety of pro bono opportunities in the UK and would now communicate these to his London lawyers.
One of the most interesting points to emerge was from Barbara Cahalane, director of communications at the Law Society. She said that the Law Society is introducing aspirational pro bono targets similar to those used in the US. This is a difficult issue, not least because, as Barbara said, there is a need to recognise the pressures on smaller firms and to be clear that pro bono must not a substitute for Legal Aid.
Still, the fact that this is now on the Law Society's agenda is a sign of how far the UK pro bono movement has come. We will watch developments with interest.
Sophie Forsythe, pro bono community affairs officer, Allen & Overy. Yasmin Waljiee, pro bono officer, Lovells