Solicitors rally for UK pro bono scheme

LEADING solicitors are to gather in London to discuss plans to set up a national solicitors’ pro bono service.

The open meeting next month has been organised by leading charity lawyer Andrew Phillips and is backed by the Law Society and the national charity Business in the Community, which coordinates free legal advice to community initiatives.

It is hoped that it will provide the genesis for a pro bono conference in the spring.

The issue of pro bono work within the profession is highly sensitive and the Law Society has stressed it should not be seen as a substitute for legal aid. The legal aid factor is largely responsible for the fact there is no national pro bono scheme, even though 75 per cent of firms do pro bono work.

Phillips sat on a Law Society pro bono working party two years ago which ruled out making pro bono work compulsory and recommended free work should be concentrated on areas which were not covered by legal aid.

But the senior partner of Bates, Wells & Braithwaite said he was disappointed that the issue had dropped from the limelight since the report.

“The profession is being run on ever more commercial lines, with the richest firms doing no legal aid work,” he said adding he was “simply the catalyst for a meeting on which all sides can say their piece”.

In a letter announcing the meeting in The Lawyer he calls for an “open discussion” whether pro-bono work should be expanded and co-ordinated.

Law Society vice-president Philip Sycamore, who will address the meeting, said: “We are concerned that if the Law Society is seen to be actively pushing the profession into pro bono we could ruin the goodwill of certain parts of the profession. This may do more harm than good – the issue needs to be proceeded with cautiously.”

Earlier this year the Bar responded to Labour Party calls for the profession to do more legal aid work by setting up an official pro bono unit.

Many City firms are understood to favour some form of co-ordinated pro bono scheme.

Partner Jane Murphy from Linklaters & Paines said her firm undertook a variety of pro bono work, but added that a central unit to co-ordinate such activities would be a good idea.