Solicitors vote for boost to pro bono

Leading lawyers have voted to set up a pro bono group to boost the amount of pro bono work being carried out by the profession.

The decision was made at a meeting of lawyers organised by charity lawyer Andrew Phillips and backed by the Law Society and the charity Business in the Community.

The make-up of the group will be discussed over the next couple of months by a steering committee formed last week and made up of representatives from several leading City and national and regional firms.

Among the firms involved are Dibb Lupton Alsop, Mishcon de Reya, Linklaters & Paines, Clyde & Co, Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance and Rowe & Maw.

The group will discuss whether it should exist as an independent lobbying group or whether it should campaign to become a Law Society unit.

Pro Bono has been a highly sensitive area within the Law Society, which has been anxious to ensure that pro bono does not start to be viewed by the Government as a substitute for legal aid.

Law Society deputy vice-president Michael Mathews, who chaired the meeting, said: “At the moment legal aid has to be a priority and the two issues are not mutually exclusive. If a pro bono unit is set up by the Law Society we will have to look at each area of the law and how it relates to legal aid.”

Tony Willis, a partner at Clifford Chance and a member of the working group, said: “More lawyers ought to be doing pro bono, but it cannot be imposed. I hope the Law Society will throw its weight behind it, but I understand it clashes with the legal aid debate.

“If all lawyers did pro bono work it would still only scratch the surface of unmet needs.”

Tony Michaelson-Yates, a pro bono campaigner and ex-Linklaters & Paines lawyer who is also in the group, said: “The Law Society should not see the setting up of a pro bono unit as a threat to legal aid but as an opportunity to boost the image of the profession and get to grips with the technology which is changing the practice of the law.”

Two years ago a Law Society enquiry ruled out making pro bono compulsory and recommended it should focus on areas not covered by legal aid.