16 March 2015
The first ever survey on pro bono legal work in Ireland reveals a strong and growing appetite among the legal professions for providing help to those who cannot afford it. Despite recognition of pro bono as something that lawyers typically do as part of their work, this study shows that such work, done for the public good without any expectation of payment, needs to be more structured and more visible in legal businesses.
PILA (Public Interest law Alliance) was set up by FLAC in 2009 to promote public interest law in Ireland, building on its existing programmes for volunteer advice to the public. PILA’s pro bono referral scheme matches the legal needs of campaigning social justice organisations with the voluntary skills of lawyers and law firms. PILA estimates that several thousand people have benefited from assistance provided through the scheme to organisations of which they are clients.
PILA Co-ordinator Rachel Power, who conducted the survey at the end of 2014, commented that “We have seen increasing enthusiasm from lawyers to get involved in pro bono that is structured and targeted. PILA aims to make it easier for lawyers to do this work and for organisations to get the legal help they need.
“With the study, we wanted to gauge the attitudes of our own legal volunteers as well as the wider profession; we wanted to start a conversation about the value of this work, its place in the legal sector and what it might look like into the future.”
Some 464 individual solicitors and barristers responded to the survey from all over Ireland. Almost three-quarters of those say they have done legal work for free in their career with almost 40% doing pro bono work regularly. Most of the legal work being offered for free involves legal research, advice or document drafting (62%) followed by providing legal advice in a clinic (33%) and representation (21%).
In doing pro bono, lawyers stated they were less concerned with ‘business’ outcomes, being more interested in personal satisfaction and with fulfilling a sense of social or professional responsibility, ‘wanting to give something back’. Just under three-quarters of solicitors and over half of barristers surveyed said time was the biggest obstacle to doing pro bono work. Among those who currently are not involved in pro bono, many say they find it difficult to identify such work or to hear about opportunities for doing it.
The survey also contains a section on law students, many of whom have already been involved in pro bono work and the majority of whom (86%) plan to do pro bono work when qualified.
According to FLAC Director General Noeline Blackwell, “Despite Shakespeare’s injunction to ‘kill all the lawyers,’ FLAC’s experience is that pro bono work is embedded in the legal profession in a way that is it not embedded in other types of work, and that it gives a pathway to thousands of people who would otherwise be denied access to justice.”