Stand out from the crowd: pro bono distinguishes true professionals, says society

The Law Society is set to examine the future direction of pro bono work in the wake of legal aid cuts, Legal Futures can reveal.

It will also look at the role of pro bono in helping distinguish solicitors from post-Legal Services Act competitors and how corporate clients can better understand their legal advisers’ pro bono activity.

A committee is likely to be set up this week that will make recommendations for a more “developed policy” on pro bono at a time when the society’s current policy that pro bono is an adjunct to, rather than substitute for, legal aid is “being challenged”.

A paper going to the legal affairs and policy board says the legal aid cuts are raising important questions about how the profession will respond to “the increased demand for pro bono services in the face of severely diminished legal aid provision” and local authority cuts that will hit the third sector.

These include whether solicitors should be guided to put their pro bono efforts into areas of law which are falling out of scope of legal aid and whether and to what extent pro bono is a professional obligation.

“A commitment to pro bono and an ability to articulate its impact help to counter the charges of self-interest that are levelled against the Law Society in relation to defending legal aid,” the paper adds.

Away from legal aid, other drivers are increasing enthusiasm among corporate and public sector clients to see pro bono activity by their legal advisers. “On both sides there is an appetite for a more standardised approach to seeking and providing this information.”

The paper continues: “In a world where the provision of legal services will be much more commoditised, there is strong support for a view that pro bono demonstrates the ethic of a true professional. Indeed the legal profession is considered a leader in this respect and something that other professions are keen to emulate.”

It also links the work with the government’s Big Society agenda. The government’s call for businesses and professions to do more as corporate citizens “makes it more important to be able to articulate the level of contributions that are made and to demonstrate the impact they are having”.

The aim is to have a developed policy in place for November’s National Pro Bono Week.

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