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Introduction to pro bono

This page gives a brief introduction to pro bono work for solicitors, how to find opportunities and why you should do it. 

Watch our video: why you should do pro bono

Overview

Pro bono work is a vital part of the working lives of many solicitors. It helps people in the UK and abroad get access to justice if they cannot afford to pay for legal help.

Pro bono work is legal advice or representation provided free of charge by legal professionals in the public interest. This can be to individuals, charities or community groups who cannot afford to pay for legal help and cannot get legal aid or any other means of funding.

It’s always:

  • free to the client for the entire case
  • provided voluntarily by the lawyer or their firm

Reasons to work pro bono

Volunteering your time and expertise to support vulnerable people can help to:

  • increase job satisfaction
  • develop your legal, advocacy and leadership skills
  • broaden your communication and interpersonal skills
  • boost morale and relationships with your colleagues
  • expand your networks and raise your personal profile

Many pro bono projects are standalone, giving you more control over your work than a commercial matter might. You’ll be able to develop a strategy and oversee the whole case.

A pro bono programme can help promote your firm’s values and its reputation in the community. It's also important to prospective trainees and graduates.

Since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) introduced funding cuts to legal aid, fewer people have access to legal advice. Although pro bono is not a substitute for legal aid services, demand for it is increasing.

Watch our video: past Law Society president Robert Bourns and Law Society members explain why you should work pro bono


 

Expertise and commitment

Pro bono work can be a good way to build on your experience and increase your knowledge. However, your pro bono clients must get the same high standards of practice as your fee-paying clients and you should not use them solely as an opportunity to gain experience.

Pro bono work is completely voluntary. Your firm may have pro bono targets, but there is no regulatory requirement to do this work.

Types of pro bono work

Any kind of legal work can be done pro bono. As well as full representation and court appearances, it can also involve:

  • one-off advice sessions
  • working with not-for-profit organisations
  • preparing documents
  • international work
  • research

Citizens Advice and Law Centres run drop-in legal clinics staffed by pro bono lawyers. All you need to commit to is the time you spend there.

Finding pro bono opportunities

Several organisations can help you find pro bono work:

You’ll find more organisations with opportunities in the UK on our domestic pro bono page.

For organisations with opportunities abroad, see our international pro bono page.

If you’re a barrister, you can find information about volunteering on the Advocate website.

Practical and regulatory requirements

Insurance

When you do pro bono work, you’ll need to make sure you have insurance in place. Many pro bono charities and providers offer insurance for pro bono work. You should always check with the provider exactly what it covers.

If you’re working in a law firm, it might be possible to extend your existing insurance to cover pro bono work. Again, you should check with your provider for more details.

Recording time spent doing pro bono work

There’s no requirement to report or record how much pro bono work you do.

Firms with established pro bono policies are likely to track the number of pro bono hours their staff contribute.

Pro bono costs orders

Pro bono costs orders (also called section 194 orders, after section 194 of the Legal Services Act 2008 which brought them into existence) are the same as ordinary legal costs orders but they apply where a party has received free legal representation by any lawyer in the proceedings.

The court can order the losing party to make a payment which:

  • is based on what a paying client would receive
  • covers any period when free representation was provided

The costs must be paid to the Access to Justice Foundation, a charity which distributes the money to agencies and projects which give free legal advice. Front-line agencies responsible for obtaining pro bono costs can expect to receive up to 50% of the costs recovered.

Find out more about pro bono costs orders on the LawWorks website

Get recognised for your pro bono work

The Law Society's annual Excellence Awards recognise outstanding pro bono contributions through the team award for excellence in pro bono.

Pro bono organisations such as LawWorks and Trustlaw also give annual awards.

Your law firm might take pro bono work into account at your annual reviews and appraisals.

Other ways of supporting access to justice

You can also support access to justice by:

Resources

Policy – our pro bono objectives

Manual – our practical guide to developing a pro bono programme is aimed at mid-sized law firms, but it’s useful for anyone who provides legal services

Toolkit for law firms – supports and encourages the provision of pro bono legal services through organised programmes

Charter –law firms, alternative business structures and in-house teams can sign our charter to show their commitment to improving access to justice

Protocol – endorsed by the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) to promote and support high standards of pro bono work

Pro bono – good for the community, good for lawyers too – blog by Laura Bee, manager of the Legal Advice Clinic and other pro bono projects at the University of Leicester Law School

Public legal education - our work to improve public understanding of the importance of the rule of law, access to justice and constitutional rights