During my time at SHU Law I have had the chance to reflect on the real value of pro bono work. When your thrown into a commercial environment and set income targets from day one it’s easy to forget that in actual fact the proportion of people that cannot access or afford legal services is growing year on year and perhaps more so now that we are on the midst of a cost of living crisis.
Of course, some firms have very well established corporate social responsibility policies and reach out to communities to offer free legal advice – often (but not always) the bi product is fee paying work that can be funded through other means such a legal aid and not direct from the client and that’s great because it means that more people get help. Firms that cannot assist will signpost clients to the fantastic organisations that are the CAB and Support Through Court and SHU Law!
In reality, though my experience has been that those signposting don’t really understand what happens to the client thereafter and the further challenges that they face in seeking justice as it isn’t just nailed on that one of those organisations can assist. Often people are unassisted either because the resourcing isn’t there or the issue in hand is actually fairly complex. This is frustrating for all of us working in this part of the industry. We need more pro bono and social justice lawyers!
For those that get help it has to be said that the service and support that they receive is second to none. The challenges faced by our clients often mean that they are from social backgrounds where they have faced, through no fault of their own, many challenges that go beyond their legal issue but may have actually caused or contributed to it. I have during my time experienced the views of hopefully a minority that seem to think that lawyers offering pro bono services as a full time job are second class and don’t have the proper training and knowledge to sit amongst the best lawyers in the industry. I can only say how wrong that minority thankfully are. All of the professionals that I have encountered be they staff at SHU Law, Barristers or other local solicitors that give up their time to bridge this gap of unmet legal services are amongst the most dedicated that I have met and have knowledge and experience that often goes above and beyond what many have experienced in their time in private practice.
The key though is that we all have to work together. Access to Justice is such a broad concept and there is a place for everyone to use their skills and knowledge to assist as many people as possible. Pro bono work whilst challenging is often rewarding and I do hope that up and coming lawyers really reflect on whether the pro bono/Social justice arena is somewhere that they see themselves working as its key that we continue to ensure that we are not a dying breed.
By Sally Mallinson-Ayres