Pro Bono: What does it mean? Why should we do it? How do we go about it?
Pro bono is derived from the Latin term “pro bono publico”, meaning “for the public good.” Pro bono is where persons in the legal sector volunteer in various ways to improve access to justice.
It is an important time to support those who require free legal assistance. As of 1 April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) came into effect. This resulted in changes to the scope of public-funding available for advice on a number of areas such as family, welfare benefits, employment and immigration.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) does not require solicitors to report their pro bono hours. However, several firms with established social responsibility strategies and pro bono policies will report on their contribution to the community and the projects that they are involved in. For aspiring barristers, the Bar Pro Bono Unit is just one example of volunteering upon completion of your second sixth of pupillage.
Educational institutions may provide opportunities for law students to work alongside qualified lawyers. Pro bono is desirable in a training contract or pupillage application because the work develops the skills required in any of the legal fields you wish to enter. If you are concerned about your skills and abilities, many pro bono projects provide support, training and supervision. Once you begin your pro bono project, it is important to log your hours and ensure you have a copy of any certification that you have achieved as this may be requested by future employers.
Depending on the project undertaken, law students can experience face-to-face client contact, demonstrate time commitment, work under high pressure and learn to collaborate. A few specific examples include: working for the Free Representation Unit (FRU) to improve advocacy, presenting educational workshops for Streetlaw to develop teamwork skills, and volunteering on local legal advice clinic helplines. Some law students volunteer with their local Citizens Advice Bureau, support charities such as The Howard League for Penal Reform, and work for not-for-profit organisations such as Amicus.
For law students, there is more to pro bono than improving a CV for potential employers. In order to find out more about opportunities, there are groups such as The Human Rights Lawyers Association or Young Legal Aid Lawyers which organise events related to legal aid and meetings in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, and Sheffield. Both organisations have information regarding scholarships, bursaries, and job vacancies related to the field of legal aid.
Words by Misha Nayak-Oliver