If you are a person in need of legal redress but don’t have the means to hire a solicitor or barrister, this article is for you.
If you are a lawyer already in practice, a student currently enrolled in law school or one that anticipates sitting A Levels with the intent of practising law, this article is also for you.
Now, your Superprof explores the humane side of the legal profession by expounding on the topic of ‘charity’ legal work that bears the dignified, time-honoured title of pro bono publico.
What is Pro Bono Work?
Pro bono publico translates from Latin as for the good of the public.
Specifically, pro bono work differs from volunteerism in the fact that anyone doing pro bono work is skilled in the area of the work being done.
Pro-bono is not the only common legal term used by lawyers that you will have to learn.
A housebuilding crew may undertake repairs of a home at no cost to the homeowner, for example, and a highly qualified surgeon may perform a delicate operation to improve the quality of life for a patient in need.
The medical charity Doctors Without Borders could be considered pro bono work, as would be Lawyers Without Borders!
Ironically, it often seems that our legal structure, the framework of laws that govern and shape our society, are not meant to benefit every single citizen when, in fact, that is exactly their purpose.
Imagine you bear a grievance of some sort – against your landlord, maybe, or perhaps you have a matter to bring before a family court judge.
First, you have to have the necessary funds to bring suit against the defendant. And then...
doesn’t it seem that it takes forever before your case is heard? And when it is heard, does the resolution seem a bit arbitrary?
Sometimes, the wheels of justice grind slowly – Terry Waite, CBE
We must also confront the fact that legal services don’t come cheap.
Of course, you may counter that assertion with Legal Aid, a government initiative designed to help pay for all or a part of one’s legal fees.
The trouble with that organisation is that there are strict criteria for legal aid qualification; one of them being your level of income.
Not everyone who lives in poverty qualifies for legal aid and not every case will merit representation; a state of affairs that sometimes leaves supplicants in legal limbo.
As an attorney or attorney-to-be, you will have the opportunity to give such people access to justice by participating in pro bono events, either through your firm or through various legal charities that we will now highlight.
LawWorks: The Solicitors’ Pro Bono Organisation
This organisation is the solicitors’ charity that endeavours to provide legal aid to those of low income who might not otherwise merit advocacy through other channels.
If you are in need of legal assistance but concerned about whether you would qualify for either free legal aid or the services of a pro bono solicitor, their website’s homepage will greet you with a questionnaire to clarify the issue.
You may reasonably expect help from LawWorks with such legal issues as:
Discrimination – in the workplace, in medical or administrative services, in housing and other areas of life.
Employment: unfair dismissal, employment tribunals, etc.
Family: divorce and separation, family mediation, child abduction and children taken into care
Housing: eviction, homelessness, rent arrears and safety issues in your rented home
Education: issues with special needs students, exclusions, learning difficulties
Debt: bankruptcy, repossession of property – real estate or other material possessions, such as automobiles
Personal injury: an accident that was not your fault
Welfare benefits: appealing a decision regarding your social benefits
Clinical negligence: problems with your medical care and/or treatment, or with someone you have legal authority over, such as a child or parent.
Domestic abuse, child abuse, forced marriage and/or harassment by an ex-partner
Public law: if you have a case to take up against a public body.
Depending on your exact situation, you may be directed to Legal Aid, which does handle a portion of such claims.
However, the merits of your case may compel a LawWorks solicitor to litigate on your behalf, whether you qualify for Legal Aid or not.
Besides individual and public interest cases, LawWorks also appreciates representing non-profit organisations.
Such engagement might include drafting or reviewing contracts, drafting or updating the organisation’s constitution, and litigation on behalf of their non-profit client in matters such as commercial disputes.
If we’ve given you the impression that you must already be a full-fledged solicitor already employed in a big and prestigious law firm in order to volunteer through LawWorks, let us now assert that, even as a law student, you may demonstrate your commitment to practising law by volunteering with LawWorks.
The Bar Pro Bono, for Barristers
LawWorks volunteer solicitors will assist qualified applicants with any civil matter within their jurisdiction, but what if your matter is such that a barrister is needed?
Generally, barristers work with clients only through a solicitor.
However, through the Bar Pro Bono charity, that regulation is bypassed, giving barristers direct, albeit limited access to clients.
Barristers will only help with certain aspects of your legal matters, such as representing you in a court or tribunal, drafting certain documents, or giving legal advice in writing.
Your volunteer barrister will not prepare briefs or other casework related to your court case, nor will they lodge papers for you at the courthouse. In fact, they will not provide you with any administrative support and they will not write letters on your behalf.
Furthermore, this pro bono project offers legal representation only on a step by step basis.
Simply said, that means they will not take your case on; they will help you with a single aspect of your case at a time.
Should you need more help from a barrister for your ongoing case, you would have to apply for help from Bar Pro Bono anew.
In spite of these substantive rules, should your case merit legal representation from a barrister – and you meet all of their criteria, you may count on The Bar Pro Bono volunteers to advocate on your behalf.
Once you have ascertained that you do not qualify for free legal aid and your case particulars call for the services of a barrister, they will consider your application regardless of what area of the law it falls under.
Please note that you must submit your application for help as early as possible; at least three weeks prior to your hearing date.
Furthermore, you may not contact Bar Pro Bono directly to seek legal help; you must get a referral from a legal clinic, legal advice service, the Citizen Advice Bureau or even your local Member of Parliament (MP).
You may even find that law firms could refer you to The Bar Pro Bono to address a single, specific aspect of your case!
It is not uncommon for aggrieved parties to perceive the lawyer with the best legal education – i.e., barristers, as the most qualified to handle their case.
However, it is important to remember that barristers address only certain aspects of the law; if yours is a civil case – a tort lawsuit, for example, a solicitor may well fit the bill much better.
And nothing says that your solicitor won’t appeal to a Bar Pro Bono barrister to draft an opinion or represent you in court!
Besides working on individual cases, barristers affiliated with The Bar Pro Bono work in the community, doing their bit for public service with volunteer organisations – much as solicitors do, but again: only within their scope of work.
You may ask your City law tutors about this organisation...
Finding Pro Bono Services Elsewhere
Plenty of individual law offices offer pro bono services to clients with nowhere else to turn, perhaps especially if Legal Aid turned them away.
Admittedly, at the peak of your legal crisis, you probably won’t want to call a multitude of law firms.
To that end, the UK Law Society has created a webpage that can help you find the counsel you need.
If you are looking for legal advice – not necessarily representation or help, you may address your query to Eversheds Sutherland, a law firm that offers free legal services.
You should note that the lion’s share of their cases come to them from LawWorks and this next organisation.
TrustLaw, a global pro bono legal programme mostly works with non-governmental organisations and other international to, among other things, expand into new countries.
As such, these attorneys would not be likely to represent individuals in a court of law or assist them with their legal needs, but...
Didn’t we say that this article is equally meant for legal supplicants and those training for a career in law?
Whether you are someone looking for equal justice under the law or someone enrolled in a school of law, you now know where you can turn to find pro bono legal opportunities.
Learn more about pro bono work from law tutors...