What is Pro Bono?
Pro Bono refers to any work a lawyer undertakes to help the public that is free of charge. Following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), there has been a significant reduction in legal aid, meaning that more people than ever are relying on pro bono work for free legal advice, assistance, or representation.
The Impact on Society
The impact pro bono has on society is palpable: it provides access to justice and allows for the rule of law to be upheld. Lord Reed explains that “Without access, laws are liable to become a dead letter”. Just one example of this is that private family law disputes are now ineligible for legal aid, save where there is a context of child abduction, domestic abuse, or the case qualifies for exceptional case funding. This means that individuals may have to represent themselves in court, as a Litigant In Person (LIP). The number of private family law cases involving LIPs increased from 43 percent to 74 percent over the year following LASPO, and since then has remained steady at about 81 percent. When inexperienced LIPs go to court, they all too often end up with inadequate or ineffective court rulings. Pro Bono representation goes some way to bridging this gap.
The Benefit to Lawyers
Yet pro bono does more than just benefit society. Lawyers say it also improves their ability to do their jobs, establishes networks, enables law firms to attract and retain talent, and gives newer lawyers vital experience that they are unlikely to get from their employer. Furthermore, pro bono enhances the reputation of law firms and the legal profession which are seen to be doing good in the community. Thus, pro bono is also crucial to the development of the legal profession.
Of course, it is a legal right to represent oneself in court. However, no one should have to have to represent themselves at court merely because they cannot afford representation. Not only are there benefits for law firms and chambers as well as individual lawyers, but Pro Bono is crucial for the well-being of society. With Covid-19 and the reduction in legal aid, this need is ever-increasing.
- Represent yourself in court: Overview – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Ministry of Justice, Family Court Statistics Quarterly: January – March 2020 (MOJ, 2020), 7, Fig 4.
- Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012
- R (on the application of UNISON) (Appellant) v Lord Chancellor (Respondent)  UKSC 5
Author: Joy Elson