Think tank calls for compulsory pro bono and oaths for newly-qualified lawyers

Print This Post

14 July 2015

scales of justice

ResPublica: for many the law merely a “revenue-generating business”

An influential think tank has called for the introduction of compulsory pro bono for lawyers, set at 10% of their “work output”.

The call follows justice secretary Michael Gove’s comment in a speech last month that “much more” needed to be done to encourage pro bono, particularly by commercial lawyers.

ResPublica, which has been linked to David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, also proposed that newly-qualified lawyers should swear oath on qualification to “re-assert a sense of vocation”.

In the report In Professions We Trust, ResPublica said a mandatory pro bono obligation, set at 5% of “work output” for legal aid lawyers and 10% for everyone else, could generate 30 million hours of free advice for the public every year in England and Wales.

The think tank said that for many lawyers, the law had become “no more than a revenue-generating business”. This could undermine the profession’s vocation, “grievously harm” its ethics and was a “major source of public hostility”.

ResPublica went on: “A mandatory pro-bono obligation regulated by the professional bodies could help inculcate an understanding across the profession that the law is not just a business but also and most importantly a vocation.

“This measure would build public support and provide far greater access to justice.”

On swearing an oath on qualification – with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executive already does for newly qualified fellows – the think tank said that this, combined with a “new emphasis on ethics in legal education and training”, would reassert a sense of vocation and “help to re-establish bonds of trust” between clients and lawyers.

“Oaths are, of course, just part of the answer, but they do provide a visible public confirmation that what people are seeking in their legal advisors is something that they have sworn to provide.

“A qualifying oath would further affirm professionalism through making clear the code of conduct to which lawyers are expected to adhere.”

ResPublica also proposed the introduction of a “duty to mediate” for solicitors and barristers, in both civil and criminal cases.

This would take the form of a duty to “assess for mediation in every case and where appropriate actively promote out-of-court settlement”. In civil law, there could be “penalties” for those who unreasonably refused this course of action, while in criminal law it could be “tied to restorative justice principles”.

In his speech last month, justice secretary Michael Gove attacked commercial lawyers for failing on pro bono, and said the status quo was indefensible.

“Many of our leading law firms have committed to give 25 hours pro bono on average per fee-earner each year. That is welcome, but much more needs to be done. Last year, according to a survey by the Law Society, 16% of solicitors in commerce and industry provided an hour or more pro bono work.

“When it comes to investing in access to justice then it is clear to me that it is fairer to ask our most successful legal professionals to contribute a little more rather than taking more in tax from someone on the minimum wage.”

Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “Think tank calls for compulsory pro bono and oaths for newly-qualified lawyers”

  1. I can think of another “vocation” that has “grievously harmed” its ethics and is a “major source of public hostility” – politicians. Yet they seem happy enough to call the kettle black.

  2. Not Atticus Anymore on July 14th, 2015 at 4:52 pm
  3. The legal profession’s number one reported statistic is PEP but it’s apparently a vocation. Well I never !!!

  4. Anon on July 14th, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Leave a comment

* Denotes required field

All comments will be moderated before posting. Please see our Terms and Conditions

Legal Futures Blog

Court modernisation: Court Service spins response to NAO report

Roger Smith

After months of debate on the court modernisation programme led by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, we now have an authoritative analysis from the National Audit Office. HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood professed herself happy. The report was “helpful and constructive”. She was pleased that “the NAO acknowledges our ‘early progress’”. Her comments were more reflective of spin than the span of the NAO report. The NAO acknowledges the ambitious nature of the reform. But comments like “HMCTS’s change portfolio presents a very significant challenge” need minimal decoding to reveal a bit of concern.

May 17th, 2018