Pro Bono Connect: Two heads are better than one
(Author Jamie Goldsmith, Pro Bono Connect) Barristers and solicitors often do pro bono cases separately. Sometimes that is appropriate, but- for litigation in particular- it is much more efficient and effective to work together as a team. That is what happens in paid litigation: so why not pro bono cases too? Pro Bono Connect brings the two halves of the profession together.
Our vision is that barrister and solicitor assistance should always be available for pro bono cases, where it is needed. We provide a means to help barristers and solicitors to collaborate by establishing a network of chambers and firms willing to work together and providing a simple framework to enable them to do so.
By working together on pro bono cases, barristers and solicitors can take advantage of the complementary skills offered by either side of the profession and share the benefits and burdens of work as capacity fluctuates over time. This makes pro bono work more manageable for individual lawyers and therefore encourages them to take on more cases and potentially for a longer duration. In turn, more lay clients get the help they need and a better service.
The scheme was born out of my personal experiences as a barrister doing pro bono work. A few years ago, I took on a number of pro bono cases through the Bar Pro Bono Unit (BPU). Two of those cases started as small commitments but turned into very large ones- with over 100 hours spent on each case. Whilst the cases were very rewarding, I was performing both the barrister and solicitor role. This was time-consuming and involved me carrying out tasks I don’t usually perform, like inter-partes correspondence or bundling. As such, the cases took twice as long as my normal work. In one case, I was able to find solicitor help through a personal contact, which made the work much more manageable. In the other, I could not.
For a year afterwards, I am ashamed to say that I was wary about taking on pro bono cases, at least for anything other than very small matters, given the time commitment required. It occurred to me that if there
In September 2015, I carried out a survey of 60 barristers to see whether my experience was common and whether there would be greater interest in doing pro bono work as part of a team with solicitors. The response was a resounding yes! Similar questions were asked of solicitors, and again, the response was really positive. Contacts told me that the idea of getting help with legal research, drafting pleadings and advocacy (at least at higher levels) was very attractive. I was also interested to learn that many law firms (unlike chambers) have pro bono hours targets, which aren’t always easy to meet, and that some firms had to pay to be part of schemes that would give them access to pro bono work.
With the help of the BPU and fellow barristers (Eleanor and Andrew) and clerks (Jackie and Adam) at One Essex Court, we set up Pro Bono Connect in September 2015. Initially, this was
I am delighted to say that Pro Bono Connect is growing well. Currently, there are 17 firms and 20 chambers involved. Around 20 pro bono cases have been taken on through the scheme (several which are ongoing because the scheme offers the facility to provide litigation support for the whole of proceedings if the lawyers agree). These cases cover chancery, property, company, tax, civil fraud, public, contract and employment law in pro bono cases. In the near term, the aim is to expand into new areas of law (particularly housing, family and immigration). The scheme is supported by the Bar Pro Bono Unit, the Law Society and the Access to Justice Foundation.
Pro Bono connect does not initiate new pro bono cases, but enables solicitors to find barristers, and barristers to find solicitors to work together on cases, rather than on their own. Requests are made to and from clerks (in the case of barristers) or pro bono managers (in the case of solicitors) via the Pro Bono Connect website (http://probonoconnect.co.uk/members-area/). At present, all barrister cases come from the BPU, which means that they are cases for individuals and that they have been means-tested. Solicitor cases come from any number of sources including NGOs, charities, community groups or corporate bodies. There is no requirement to accept a request, only to consider doing so, and a request can be accepted in whole or part. It is flexible. If a request is accepted, the solicitor and barrister work on the pro bono case as a team in exactly the same way as for paid litigation.
To find out more information and sign-up (for free), visit www.probonoconnect.co.uk or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. To read case studies by participating chambers or solicitors, see http://probonoconnect.co.uk/case-studies/.