There is a popular pro bono slogan, originally developed during a previous National Pro Bono Week: "Pro bono - it's part of being a lawyer." In 2007 LawWorks started its Students and Law Schools Project (funded by the Law Society). While the project never had its own strapline, its purpose could be captured by the phrase "from cradle to grave". LawWorks aims to instil the ethos of pro bono in all lawyers from law school onwards, hoping that they will carry the enthusiasm with them through qualification and onwards to become the senior role models that the profession badly needs.
LawWorks is the operating name of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group. Established in 1997, we are a national charity providing consultancy and clearing house services for our members - largely law firms and in-house legal departments (for which we provide professional indemnity insurance cover). We are a national charity currently focusing on strengthening engagement outside London in partnership with the Law Society. In 2013 we launched LawWorks Cymru, which is based in Cardiff Law School. Our North East Hub is run in partnership with Northumbria Law School. (LawWorks Scotland is a separate sister charity.) We operate through a number of specific projects, access to all of which is available to our members in return for an annual membership fee.
Young lawyers will first encounter LawWorks through our work supporting the establishment and networking of pro bono activities in universities and postgraduate law schools. Students are an important resource in the pro bono sector and our work helps to shore up their contributions and alert students to local opportunities. We run a Student Pro Bono Conference every other year and a dedicated student pro bono website. However, this is just the start.
LawWorks' great strength is the range of projects it operates - harnessing the contributions of lawyers by ensuring a broad range of opportunities to appeal to all; providing support across a range of projects to maximise access for the community; and enabling efficient cross-referrals between projects.
LawWorks brokers cases for both individuals and community groups. Our teams review applications for legal merit and financial eligibility. We aim to provide help for those who cannot access legal aid or afford to pay, and for small charities which cannot otherwise access legal assistance. We place cases with members who offer the requisite expertise, and lawyers receive a briefing sheet and key materials. We aim to place cases which will not take an inordinate amount of members' time. We also provide free mediation where either party to a dispute cannot afford to pay.
Our freelawdirect project facilitates brief, discrete responses provided anonymously by members to specific questions posed over the Web and triaged by the charity. This is a particularly popular project which works on maximising the use of lawyers' time, allowing them to do pro bono work from their desks.
We establish and support free legal advice clinics, capitalising on our flexibility and knowledge of the sector. Clinics are established according to local need and capacity in the legal profession. They may be in general or specific areas of law; appointment or drop-in; face to face, telephone or virtual; run by a single firm or a group; and weekly, fortnightly or monthly. The target clients may be individuals or organisations. All LawWorks clinics enjoy support such as roundtable knowledge-sharing sessions, handbooks, advice and consultancy and, crucially, free CPD accredited training, available face to face and by downloadable podcasts. This project is particularly important because all lawyers, irrespective of their expertise, are capable of making a real difference by providing initial advice to those in need.
We provide other opportunities for lawyers to use their legal skills and experience to make a contribution. An important focus is public legal education. We facilitate the delivery of practice advice talks, given by our members to groups of charities on a range of issues such as redundancy or data protection. Through ALLIES ("a local lawyer in every school"), we promote lawyers using their legal skills on the governing bodies of schools, where they are able to make other contributions to society.
All of these projects involve the provision of opportunities to member firms. In response to a wider strategic demand from the legal profession, we developed Choices, which works with individual solicitors who have been made redundant, retired or taken career breaks. We provide (in partnership with the Law Society) practising certificates, insurance and a consultancy and match-making service, allowing access to all of our projects and other, more bespoke opportunities.
Lastly, and very importantly, LawWorks is innovative. Pro bono does not stand still. Recent examples have included advocacy opportunities representing asylum seekers in challenging their welfare benefit provision and support for families of children in hospices.
In all areas, we work as closely as possible in partnership with other organisations in the sector. Over the past couple of decades, the strategic coordination of pro bono in England and Wales has developed exponentially. Clearing houses such as LawWorks and the Bar Pro Bono Unit, together with other pro bono charities such as the Free Representation Unit and important advice sector umbrella bodies such as the Law Centres Federation, AdviceUK and Citizens Advice, all three professional bodies and the law school sector, were brought together in 2002 as the Attorney General's Pro Bono Coordinating Committee. This has improved collaboration and reduced duplication across the sector. More recently, in 2007 the Attorney General's International Pro Bono Coordinating Committee was formed, on the back of important new initiatives such as Advocates for International Development, to harness and coordinate appetite for focusing on the international arena.
July 2010 saw the establishment of the National Pro Bono Centre in Chancery Lane, the heart of London’s legal community. The centre was established as a charity to house the Bar Pro Bono Unit, LawWorks and CILEx Pro Bono Trust. The move has enabled the three charities to build on synergies and enhance an already close working relationship, while including provision to accommodate others involved in the pro bono sector. Indeed, three additional charities have since joined the centre, with further interest also being manifested by other groups. The centre represents the creation, for the first time in the world, of a single, high-profile, physical hub for the coordination and development of national pro bono services. It is an important and exciting next step forward for the profession as a whole, and we all look forward with great anticipation to see what results.
Rebecca Hilsenrath is the chief executive of LawWorks. For more on LawWorks and the work it does, go to www.lawworks.org.uk or call 020 7092 3940.