Firms should not be obliged to do pro bono work as a pre-requisite for gaining government contracts, solicitor general Oliver Heald has said.

He was responding to suggestions earlier in the week that the government emulate the Australian example of requiring firms conducting government work to commit to pro bono. 

Speaking at a University of Law event, Heald said a lot of firms already do pro bono of their own volition. ‘[Pro bono] is important in deciding the contracts government lets,’ he said. ‘But my feeling is voluntarism is the heart and soul of it.’

He said the growth in pro bono work is not entirely down to legal aid cuts as it has been an expanding area for decades. ‘I gained valuable experience during my student days by taking part in pro bono work. It really is a win-win situation both for students, who are given the opportunity to use their legal knowledge and skills in a real-life context,’ he said.

Heald also told students that the profession is undergoing huge changes. ‘In some ways it is the best and worst of times,’ he said. The new regulatory climate creates opportunities for the profession, such as barristers being able to partner with legal executives and do work abroad, he said. 

‘The new ABS [approach] will change law in many ways,’ he said. He predicted that ABSs could become a common feature of the high streets with non-legal businesses such as the Co-op underpinning them financially.