A leading access to justice charity has unveiled plans to remove insurance as a barrier preventing lawyers from doing pro bono work. In-house teams and firms who work together on pro bono projects can apply to be covered by LawWorks' professional indemnity insurance, its chief executive revealed today.
Martin Barnes told the inaugural LawWorks Clinics Network Conference in Birmingham that insurance costs can sometimes be a barrier for in-house lawyers and firms.
Where insurance is not already available, clinics within LawWorks' 250-strong network can come under the charity's PII. Projects that LawWorks runs or supports can also be insured.
Barnes said: 'We have been jealous of the Australian Pro Bono Centre which can provide insurance to projects they do not run or support.'
In-house legal teams and firms will be able to apply to be covered by LawWorks' PII. However, the application process will be restricted to LawWorks members. Barnes said: 'We’re hopeful this means insurance will not be a reason why pro bono projects cannot be started.'
LawWorks will also be piloting a virtual advice clinic called 'Free Legal Answers' where clients can log into the system to ask a legal question or describe a legal problem. Details of the project were announced last year.
The service was originally developed as an online pro bono clinic by US firm Baker Donelson. Barnes told the conference: 'I had a chat with the chair of the American Bar Association, whose firm owns the licence for Free Legal Answers. They offered to give LawWorks the licence.'
Lawyers in England and Wales wanting to take part will need to register and be verified by LawWorks. They will be able to respond to legal enquiries and provide advice anonymously. But the charity will not be able to protect them from complaints from the ombudsman or Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Barnes said: 'All the advice given by lawyers will be covered by LawWorks’ PII. They can contact the individual asking the question for further information or clarification. That’s Free Legal Answers. But we’re approaching it very cautiously.'
If the pilot is successful, the charity will look at how the website can be integrated with existing services. However, Barnes said: 'The key thing is that it will complement and support existing services as best it can rather than cannibalise or detract.'