Making resolutions about pro bono work

One laudable new year resolution more individuals in the profession are making is that of doing pro bono work.

A recent report from Lawyers in the Community (071-383 2200) says that more than 200 lawyers have been involved in its scheme of helping local charities. Over 100 voluntary organisations in 16 London boroughs have had a lawyer from the scheme join their management committee.

City firm Herbert Smith has issued a newsletter on the five community charitable projects its staff participate in. Firms across the country are involved in law centres and other projects, as are barristers' chambers and others in the profession.

The Law Society's working party on pro bono work is another indication of the importance attributed to encouraging interest in the area. And of course, The Lawyer, with The Legal Protection Group, is sponsoring the award for best pro bono activity, to be awarded this spring.

While there is undoubtedly an endless appetite for pro bono help, care has to be taken that the altruistic motive is never lost sight of. All too easily the pro bono activity of lawyers can be interpreted as the salving of the conscience of a rich profession. Nor, as we go into the next round of debate on the future of legal aid, should pro bono work be brought in to the equation. The publication of league tables showing the monetary value of pro bono work done by firms could send out the wrong message about why pro bono activity is being undertaken.

Moves are afoot in the US to make a certain amount of pro bono work mandatory for lawyers. Those who do not want to participate have to pay to contract out, with the funds raised financing free legal services. The Labour Party may well be attracted to such ideas. But the end product of such schemes has to be that of killing genuine pro bono stone dead.