UK top 20 devotes £180m of billing time to pro-bono work

The value of pro-bono work in the UK is almost half a billion pounds a year, with research from legal recruitment company Laurence Simons finding that the top 20 firms carried out £180m of free work – the equivalent of 1.85 per cent of their budgets – in 2011.

Laurence Simons private practice director Guy Adams said pro bono is a “fine tradition” of law firms and is more important than ever with the changes to legal aid.

The research, which was released to coincide with pro-bono week, show that the average value of voluntary work for each lawyer was £5,194. However, with the survey suggesting that 52 per cent of lawyers did no pro-bono work at all last year, the figure is likely to be double that amount.

Clifford Chance senior associate Patricia Barratt’s pro-bono work on behalf of charity Missing People is one successful example.

Barratt drafted a Parliamentary Bill in 2009, called the Presumption of Death Bill, designed to ease the legal burden on families of people missing who are feared dead. Now, after a number of briefings and lobbying, the Government has agreed to support a lot of the suggestions put forward through Barratt’s work with the charity.

She said: “Clifford Chance was already acting as pro-bono advisers to Missing People and continues to do so. I’d been working in the firm’s public policy group on legislative drafting and this was an opportunity I very much felt I could help with.

“The charity advises the families of people who have gone missing and many were approaching them with practical, financial and legal difficulties around the procedures, such as getting probate.

“There was a clear gap in the law.”

Barratt insisted that pro-bono work is as vital as ever in the current climate. “It gives us a chance to engage with real issues where we feel that we’re really helping parts of society,” she added.

The presumption of death legislation will replace a “patchwork” system that requires families to go to court on a number of occasions in order to conclude all of their relative’s affairs.

The bill, which was tabled by Conservative MP John Glen, will consolidate existing procedures into one simplified court process for families in England and Wales and introduce a Certificate of Presumed Death, creating a more straightforward process for families.

Justice minister Helen Grant said: “The changes will create a simple legal framework to ensure bereaved people can deal with the property and affairs of a loved one who has gone missing and is presumed dead.”