The expectation that pro bono, one of the more impressive parts of the ‘Big Society’, can pick up where £300m of civil legal aid cuts left off is fanciful.
The Law Society released the results of its pro bono survey during Pro Bono Week, and it makes interesting reading. The good news is that the commitment to pro bono is up among junior lawyers. Clearly, straitened economic times have prompted a laudable response and lawyers continue to enter the profession for ‘the right reasons’.
The bad news is that the value of lawyers’ pro bono commitment is down, prompting suggestions that access to justice would be best served by making pro bono work compulsory.
A form of professional ‘conscription’ cannot be the answer. Not least, it would be a poor outcome for clients, who would risk being ill-served by a press-ganged legal adviser.
Various things need to happen to unlock the greater potential that pro bono has to accommodate unmet need. Chiefly, whether provided by public funds or a profession-wide solution, the trend of frontline legal advice centres closing needs to be reversed – otherwise lawyers willing to commit to pro bono remain on one side of a cattle grid, with potential clients stuck on the other.
But the expectation that pro bono, one of the more impressive parts of the ‘Big Society’, can pick up where £300m of civil legal aid cuts left off is fanciful. Compulsion would not change that.