There is a popular pro bono slogan, developed during National Pro Bono Week a few years ago: “Pro bono – it’s part of being a lawyer.” In 2007 LawWorks launched its Students and Law Schools Project (funded by the Law Society), with its purpose captured by the phrase "from cradle to grave". LawWorks aims to instil the ethos of pro bono in all lawyers from law school, hoping that they will carry the enthusiasm with them through qualification and onwards to become the senior pro bono role models that the profession 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 focused on strengthening engagement outside London in partnership with the Law Society. In 2013 LawWorks Cymru was launched, with staff based at Cardiff Law School supporting pro bono work across Wales. North of the border, pro bono work is supported by our sister charity LawWorks Scotland. 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 supports and monitors the development of student pro bono projects across the country. We help to produce a student pro bono report every two years and we run a dedicated student pro bono website. LawWorks also organises an annual Student Pro Bono Awards at the House of Commons, run in partnership with the attorney general, and we also run a Student Pro Bono Conference to promote pro bono in universities.
LawWorks’ great strength is the range of projects it operates – harnessing the contributions of lawyers at the start of their careers through to senior partners and retired lawyers. By providing support across a range of projects to maximise access for the community, we hope to encourage and facilitate a significant proportion of the profession to engage in pro bono work.
LawWorks for Community Groups supports small charities, voluntary organisations, not-for-profits and social enterprises working at the very heart of our communities in England and Wales by helping them to get the legal guidance they need. The project is focused on helping the United Kingdom’s smallest and most vulnerable organisations through the brokerage of free legal assistance, information and mediation.
We help to 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. In the last year, LawWorks has launched our first Skype clinic and the first clinic to be run from chambers. All LawWorks clinics enjoy support such as roundtable knowledge-sharing sessions, handbooks, resources, advice and consultancy, and 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.
Together for Families
LawWorks, with the assistance of its members, matches volunteers with families with life-limited or life-threatened children. These families encounter many different professionals and services and they can often find themselves engaged in a struggle to access services and support. Our volunteers provide advocacy and support to take away the administrative and bureaucratic burdens that result in parents battling with agencies and local authorities rather spending time with their child.
The Choices projects involve the provision of opportunities to member firms. In response to a wider strategic demand from the legal profession, we also work with individual solicitors who have been made redundant, are unemployed or have taken career breaks. We provide insurance and a consultancy and match-making service, allowing access to all of our projects and other, more bespoke opportunities.
The Fellowship Programme aims to encourage senior lawyers to become involved in pro bono work with a view to continuing with it on retirement. The programme offers an individual consultancy service where we aim to harness the variety of skills that senior lawyers have by placing them in a wide range of pro bono opportunities, including trusteeships, mentoring and providing ongoing support to community groups and charities. Volunteers on the project include individuals and senior lawyers from our member firms.
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 Centre’s 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. 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 the 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 and support the Bar Pro Bono Unit, LawWorks and CILEx Pro Bono Trust. The move has enabled the three charities to build on synergies and enhance already close working relationships, while including provision to accommodate others involved in the pro bono sector. Since opening, the centre has welcomed many other pro bono charities and now houses the Access to Justice Foundation, London Legal Support Trust and PILNET. The centre represents the creation of a single, high-profile, physical hub for the coordination and development of national pro bono services. It is an important and exciting step forward for the profession as a whole and we all look forward with great anticipation to see what results.
Jo Ensor is the chief executive of LawWorks. For more on LawWorks and the work it does, go to www.lawworks.org.uk.