One of my happier responsibilities as editor of this esteemed (I hope) organ is helping to judge the annual LawWorks Pro Bono Awards. These celebrate the best legal pro bono activities undertaken by organisations and individual solicitors, and the positive impact they have had on those who are helped.
Well – it is a ‘happy’ responsibility to a degree. In fact, judging the awards can be a bit of a challenge, requiring as it does a crystal-clear head and a capacity for ruthlessness.
How so? So many solicitors step outside their day jobs to offer free advice that the quality and heft of the awards entries generally leaves one spoilt for choice. It can feel churlish not to give just about everyone an award, because so many deserve to be lauded. Sometimes one needs to be discriminating to the point of pedantry.
Curious, isn’t it. To my knowledge there are no pro bono awards for surveyors, accountants, architects or – perish the thought – journalists. And even if there are, or should be, I cannot think of any professions that give as much back as the law.
Well done, if that doesn’t sound patronising (which of course it does – sorry). Lawyers deserve a better press.
National Pro Bono Week begins today. As ever, there is a lot going on, both in person and online. This year, too, the event turns 20, which is a good moment to take stock.
I won’t reprise here the arguments of those who claim pro bono is a ‘sticking plaster on an open wound’. They have a point, of course, but it has been well articulated. Let me instead accentuate the positive. It is a pity that some years ago the Law Society stopped calculating the aggregate value of free advice. Back in 2014, Chancery Lane estimated that the total annual contribution of pro bono across all private practices exceeded £600m - with that figure rising sharply as lawyers strived to mitigate the worst of government funding cuts.
Those cuts have worsened dramatically in the last seven years. But the profession has responded so stoutly that the value of pro bono would surely top £1bn were a similar estimate to be attempted today.
‘Do-gooders’ have their uses. Someone should tell the PM.