The value of pro bono work undertaken by solicitors is rising sharply as the profession strives to sustain access to justice in the wake of government cuts.
Research by the Law Society estimates that the total annual value of pro bono across all private practices is now £601m, equivalent to 2.8% of the yearly turnover of all solicitors’ firms.
This is up £73m, or 14%, on the £528m recorded in 2013. More than 40% of all solicitors surveyed had undertaken at least one hour of pro bono work in the preceding year, unchanged on 2013. They carried out an average of 52 hours each.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen (pictured), who has made access to justice a theme of his tenure, said: ‘Legal aid cuts and wider funding cuts are chipping away at access to justice. The latest figures on pro bono work are a sign of how solicitors and firms are committed to helping those who need legal advice.’
The figures are published today to coincide with the start of National Pro Bono Week, sponsored by the Society, Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.
The proportion of solicitors in private practice working pro bono has remained steady since 2012, at about half. However, the proportion of solicitors in commerce and industry getting involved has fallen sharply, from 23% in 2013 to 16% this year.
Sole practitioners are more likely to work pro bono than solicitors in the biggest firms. Indeed, involvement in pro bono in the largest firms (81 partners or more) has dipped to 43% this year from 51% in 2013. Among firms in the 26-80 partner range, it has climbed from 33% to 41%.
Caplen added: ‘The scale and scope of unpaid work carried out by our profession is humbling. From young families frightened of facing eviction and those seeking asylum from persecution, to large charities dealing with vast numbers of contracts, pro bono helps so many people, directly and indirectly.’