Expert witnesses, investigators, costs lawyers, insolvency specialists, translators and e-discovery firms have all agreed to join the UK’s first pro bono litigation support service, launched today as part of Pro Bono Week.
Emily Sherratt, project manager of Pro Bono Expert Support (PBES), said the aim was to enable lawyers working pro bono to “know who is out there and what they can offer”.
The 22 companies involved to date include international investigators Vantage Intelligence, global consulting firm Charles River Associates, insolvency specialists Quantuma, accountants Menzies, e-discovery firms Epiq and KLDiscovery and costs lawyers Kain Knight and Masters.
Ms Sherratt said that, when it came to experts, the UK Register of Expert Witnesses had written a special code to help her find the right person for the right type of case.
For example, if a cardiologist was needed, the register would identify a number of experts who were willing to do pro bono work. “For families that are not eligible for legal aid, there is often very little scope for them to pay for an expert witness, but it could make all the difference to their case.”
The challenge in another case could be languages, where the use of translation services could enable people to give instructions in the most effective way possible.
Other pro bono cases might involve a company becoming bankrupt, where an assessment of losses could be crucial, or involve the valuation of companies to quantify the impact of an event.
Along with Quantuma, Cornerstone Research, which specialises in the financial aspects of commercial litigation, is a member of PBES.
PR and strategic communications firms also feature on the list – Byfield Consultancy, DRD Partnership and Portland Communications.
Ms Sherratt said their skills could help increase public support for a case and take the pressure off lawyers, who might not have time to spend on working out ways for the case to be covered by the media.
Costs lawyers could be particularly useful in pro bono cases, as pro bono costs orders can be made, payable to the Access to Justice Foundation.
In one recent Pro Bono Connect case, where £80,000 in damages was awarded to an Afghan woman who had been tricked out of money in an attempt to immigrate to the UK, the court made a pro bono costs order for £54,000.
“This is about creating networks for pro bono lawyers, so that they know who’s out there and what they can offer,” Ms Sherratt said.
“We are very much open to other litigation support services who want to come on board and get involved.”
Ms Sherratt said that, in order to access PBES, lawyers must be working on cases with Pro Bono Connect, which links solicitors and barristers and has over 100 law firms and chambers as members.
Requests for help come to her, including a description of the case, the type of support needed, the timings involved and the geographical location. Her role is match the case with litigation support in the right area.
Ms Sherratt said that, at the end of the first-year pilot phase of PBES, it could be expanded to cases that were not handled by Pro Bono Connect, for example those which did not need both a solicitor and barrister.
Jamie Goldsmith KC, founder of Pro Bono Connect, said PBES would bring together “crucial services” to support clients through litigation.
“Pro bono work plays an important role in delivering access to justice across society and we are incredibly grateful to the organisations and individuals who have agreed to support us.”
Lady Rose, a justice of the UK Supreme Court, said Pro Bono Week was an “important moment in the legal year” to raise the profile of pro bono, and PBES offered “those who require legal help the kind of support that will give them the best chance of progressing their case in the most effective way.”