Is this the community spirit one should expect from regional lawyers? We asked one senior partner at a top regional firm about his firm’s pro bono effort. His response was: “My personal view is that our lawyers are busy people working for the firm’s paying clients. When they’re not working for clients, we like them to have a life outside work. Pro bono can give you tunnel vision and can burn you out. People work hard enough for money.”
Oh dear. The regions just don’t seem to have been keeping pace on this one.
In the City pro bono has been placed firmly on the agenda, often by the associates themselves. After the infamous ‘Paddinggate’ memo produced by Clifford Chance‘s New York associates, the firm made pro bono one of seven key criteria for promotion in the US.
Meanwhile, Allen & Overy, among others, happily trumpets its employment of dedicated pro bono coordinators and the number of hours its lawyers rack up on pro bono or community initiatives (the magic circle firm reckons this has doubled from 15,000 to 28,000 hours in the last year alone).
Any accusations that City firms are only taking pro bono seriously because their marketing departments tell them to are, frankly, irrelevant. Outside the top firms, though, pro bono is rarely a priority; and in some cases – as with the firm above – it appears to be actively discouraged. This is an embarrassing state of affairs, particularly as in the last couple of year’s the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG) has actively sought to encourage greater participation from the regions, launching initiatives in Leeds and the Midlands.
Earlier this year I was one of the judges on the SPBG’s Student Challenge. The calibre of the entries was simply phenomenal. It seems a shame that within a couple of years of joining the profession – at a regional firm at least – any willingness to contribute your expertise and time for free is systematically drummed out of you.
In June The Lawyer launched its new ‘Pro Bono & Community Action’ section, but so far it has been dominated by entries from City and US firms. Now is the perfect opportunity for the regions to prove us wrong.