The Gazette’s ‘Memory Lane’ in this issue includes a letter from 1995 on pro bono work. The author notes that ‘in many areas we are expected to (and indeed do) work for nothing’, suggesting that pro bono be rebranded ‘lawyers work for nowt’.

At the start of pro bono week, it is worth reflecting that whenever the issue of pro bono work is mentioned, it attracts such comments. Another notion reliably wheeled out is the idea that lawyers acting for nowt are taking work away from their hard-pressed peers.

‘Pro bono’ and ‘failure to collect fees’ are distinct propositions. But the terrain has become more complex. Cuts to legal aid have vastly increased the level of need, adding the very poor to the existing ranks of middling sorts who have long had neither public funding nor the personal resources to seek legal redress.

For this group the fine tradition of pro bono sits beside novel options such as crowdfunding and legal services that are run and priced differently, delivered in ways that enable clients to complete more of the work themselves. The work of charities and trade unions is also there in the mix.

Given that unmet need vastly outstrips the resources available, all sides need to develop a dialogue. In the current climate, no one is taking work from anyone else.