Pro bono

Celebrating Pro Bono Week 2021

Pro Bono Week 2021 celebrated its 20th anniversary from 1 to 5 November. Over 60 events were held to reflect on the past 20 years, discuss current issues and look ahead to the next two decades. Valerie Robertson, our pro bono policy adviser, recaps the highlights.

Pro Bono Week 2021 may now be over, but this year's 20th anniversary provided the pro bono community with plenty of opportunities to:

  • reflect on how pro bono has developed over the last 20 years
  • discuss current issues
  • contemplate what to look forward to in the next 20 years

Past

Pro Bono Week was first launched in 2001 by then-attorney general Lord Goldsmith QC.

At that time, while there was a significant amount of pro bono activity taking place around England and Wales, there was no real coordination even among the various pro bono groups.

Lord Goldsmith launched a pro bono committee in 2002 with the primary aim of coordinating the pro bono groups and sharing their knowledge and experiences.

A key milestone for the committee included the development of the joint pro bono protocol, which not only defines, but also sets the standard for pro bono work.

Another important change was section 194 of the Legal Services Act 2007 as it allows for pro bono costs orders and the establishment of the Access to Justice Foundation.

Other significant developments were also on the way to support law firms and in-house teams with their pro bono work.

The UK Collaborative Plan for Pro Bono was developed by the profession to help with collaboration to improve access to justice through pro bono in the UK.

Pro bono has also been developing for in-house teams with the creation of the In-House Pro Bono Group, whose members share a collective belief that the provision of pro bono work is the professional responsibility of all lawyers.

Present

A number of interesting conversations took place during the Pro Bono Week 2021, mainly through virtual panel discussions, on topics ranging from:

  • how to conduct a legal health check
  • pro bono skills sessions
  • collaboration on pro bono projects
  • innovation and law tech
  • late career pro bono

Emphasis on climate change was also a focus, given that Pro Bono Week coincided with the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow.

A key trend that came out of the week was collaboration.

It’s fitting that just before Pro Bono Week, our Law Society Award for Excellence in Pro Bono was presented to a collaboration of 12 global law firms: Akin Gump, Ashurst, Cooley, Dentons, Freshfields, Latham & Watkins, Morrison & Foerster, O'Melveny, Orrick, Reed Smith, Skadden, and White & Case.

These firms combined their expertise and resources to provide pro bono assistance on a large scale to help Asylum Aid deal with statelessness within the UK.

Read an interview with the team

We were also pleased to collaborate with the In-House Pro Bono Group, GC100 and LawWorks on updating the pro bono guide for in-house solicitors.

Future

So what does the future hold for pro bono?

Well, you’ve read a lot about collaboration in this short article, so it’s probably no surprise that collaboration will continue to be a key trend – and not just among the City firms, but with in-house teams and smaller practices, too.

Technology will also play a vital role, as it has the potential to reshape the way access to justice operates and allows solicitors to reach projects around the UK and the world. This is particularly important where there are legal aid deserts.

This is a good opportunity to be reminded of the mantra for pro bono – that it is always only an adjunct to, and not a substitute for, a proper system of publicly funded legal services.

We're also reviewing our pro bono work.

In 2022, the Law Society is developing a pro bono theory of change to ensure our support for members continues to build on our progress such as the Pro Bono Charter which was launched during Pro Bono Week 2016.

The charter is a public statement that we invite law firms, in-house teams and alternative business structures to sign.

Signing the charter shows your practice is committed to improving access to justice through pro bono work.

Get in touch

If you'd like to know more about the Pro Bono Charter or the Law Society’s involvement in pro bono and Pro Bono Week, email Valerie Robertson.

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