FLAC project, PILA (Public Interest Law Alliance) has launched an impact report highlighting some of the positive change achieved through the project over a decade and renewing its call to give lawyers the tools they need to fight to improve the lives of those on the margins.
The report ‘Challenging Injustice, Championing Change: PILA Impact Report 2009-2019’ was launched at an online event where over 50 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) learnt more about how to tackle pressing social issues through accessing pro bono legal services. A recording of the event can be viewed here.
The PILA project was established by FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) in 2009 to promote public interest law in order to extend the reach of the law to those who are marginalised and disadvantaged. PILA supports a diverse network of stakeholders interested in growing the practice of law in the public interest, with particular emphasis on combining the legal needs of NGOs with the expertise of lawyers.
Central to PILA’s work is fostering a culture of pro bono work and commitment to public interest law in the legal community, in order to provide free legal supports to community, voluntary and social justice organisations that work directly with vulnerable groups. Through its Pro Bono Referral Scheme, 310 NGOs have received pro bono support through 800 legal advice and litigation matters and 45 law reform working groups. Some 2000 NGO staff have also received training in the law relevant to their clients and services through 85 legal education sessions.
While corporate governance, contracts and data protection ranked highly amongst issues affecting NGOs, the most common societal concerns referred to PILA were in the areas of housing and homelessness, migration and disability rights. The report details a number of success stories, including recognition of employment rights for au pairs, the passing of the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018, and the right to a secret ballot for people who are visually impaired.
In turn, almost 40 law firms with 2000 solicitors, over 350 barristers and in-house legal teams from 5 large multinational companies have committed to deliver expert pro bono support across a range of issues.Within a relatively short time period, the pro bono culture in Ireland has shifted to such a degree that two corporate law firms have hired dedicated pro bono associates and there is a notable growing interest from in-house legal teams.
A key development demonstrating a shifting attitude to structured pro bono within law firms has been the rise of the ‘Impact Project’ which sees PILA partner a law firm with an NGO and train lawyers in an area outside of their expertise. These projects have provided advice and representation to 650 individuals, and have brought new playersto the access to justice are on issues such as homelessness, asylum and domestic violence.
“While pro bono legal work cannot and should not replace an adequately funded system of civil legal aid, it has proved vital in addressing the unmet legal need of those left behind by the current justice system. Ten years has shown that by bringing together NGOs and lawyers under the common thread of public interest law, the law can be used in new and exciting ways for the benefit of under-served communities.” – Eilis Barry, FLAC Chief Executive.
One of PILA’s main objectives is to highlight and seek to overcome the barriers to litigating in the public interest. The project undertakes research, raises awareness and campaigns for a wider understanding of and the removal of barriers, such as legal costs, standing rules, mootness, lack of class actions and the non-justiciability of socio-economic rights.
Speaking ahead of the launch, PILA Strategic and Development Manager, Rachel Power said:
“Public interest law goes to the heart of communities and to the heart of the human issues that matter to us most. Dismantling the barriers to public interest law will continue to be a key part of our work over the next decade. We believe that introducing measures like multi-party actions, relaxing the laws on standing to allow NGOs bring actions on behalf of their clients and developing the use of protective costs orders would go a long way towards ensuring our lawyers have the tools needed to effectively fight to improve the lives of the most marginalised and disadvantaged in our courts.”