National Pro Bono Week 2016—the lawyer’s perspective

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Despite some different procedural measures to find and select cases, a lawyer will address pro bono work with all of the same professionalism as regular client work. As part of National Pro Bono Week 2016, Jess Campbell, chief executive of the Bar Pro Bono Unit, outlines how the service functions in practice and how it is adapting to changes in the wider legal sector.

How does conducting pro bono work differ from day-to-day client duties?

The Bar Pro Bono Unit offers pro bono work that compliments a barristers practice. Barristers know to provide the same service as they would if they were getting paid and so the actual day-to-day work does not differ. Barristers can expect some more administration as there is no professional client but the Bar Pro Bono Unit has just updated our internal processes so that we can better support volunteering.

Where do lawyers find a pro bono case?

One way for barristers to find pro bono cases is via the Bar Pro Bono Unit. Barristers who join the panel of volunteers are contacted with cases relevant to their expertise and location. This is usually distributed throughout chambers via the clerks. The Bar Pro Bono Unit also has a members website where barristers who have found themselves with some time can seek out a suitable pro bono case.

Are there any specific procedures you have to follow?

The Bar Pro Bono Unit has internal procedures that ensure that cases that are approved for volunteer help meet a means and merits test. This way barristers know that the person they assist really needs the help.

How do you go about deciding which types of pro bono case you take?

Senior barristers carry out a review of every case to ensure that the case is suitable for pro bono help. The case is then categorised by the appropriate level of call and experience so that the applicant receives the same quality of help as they would if they were paying.

Do you have any best practice tips for conducting and managing pro bono work?

Our applicants often say how they appreciate the time barristers take to explain processes and procedures to them. As barristers are only authorised by the Bar Pro Bono Unit to carry out single pieces of work for the applicant, both the barrister and casework team communicate clearly to manage expectations which is very valuable to a litigant in person.

What does the future hold for the pro bono sector?

There has been a significant increase in applications to the Bar Pro Bono Unit since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and therefore reliance on the pro bono sector is growing. It is apparent that anything the Bar Pro Bono Unit does can only scratch the surface of need and will never, and indeed is not expected to, take the place of a properly funded legal aid system. Barristers continue to step up to help where they can as pro bono is clearly in built into the ethos of the Bar.

Interviewed by Julian Sayarer. The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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