Pro bono – good for the community, good for lawyers too

Laura Bee, legal advice clinic director at the University of Leicester, examines what pro bono work is, explains the invaluable impact it can have, and reveals how you can get involved.
A smiling Black woman with long, curly, dark brown hair sits with a smiling white man with short brown hair and a cropped beard. She wears glasses and a yellow shirt. He wears a blue checked shirt.

What is pro bono work? Well, it is free legal advice or help provided by lawyers to the public.  

Many lawyers consider pro bono work to be an integral part of what they do.

Prospective lawyers often get into it early on; it’s very common for university law schools to have a law clinic or other pro bono activities for law students to get involved in.

As lawyers become more senior, it can become more difficult to find time to fit pro bono work in. If you can find the time, such work can be really satisfying and beneficial.

There are many different kinds of pro bono work to get involved in. You will often be helping clients in life-changing ways, dealing with issues for which they otherwise would not be able to afford legal advice or help.

In many cases, the client is an individual, but it is not uncommon for charities, start-ups and entrepreneurs to seek pro bono advice as well.

It can be particularly satisfying to secure compensation for a client, or to help them resolve a dispute which they are finding overwhelming and unresolvable.

Now, pro bono work plays a more important role than ever before, due to the very significant and well-documented cuts to legal aid following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

Pro bono work doesn't just benefit the client. There are also benefits for the lawyers who choose to give up their time for this purpose, and the law firms who employ them. 

Why do pro bono?

Here, we will examine the benefits of pro bono for individual lawyers, firms and the wider community.

For individual lawyers

To build on existing legal skills

Junior lawyers in particular can find themselves doing pro bono work with more client contact or responsibility than they are used to.

To find out more about how you might fit into the legal profession 

Law students or aspiring lawyers find that doing pro bono work gives them confidence in their own abilities, and a more realistic idea of what they want to do beyond graduation.

To increase organisational and management skills

Firms often task their trainees to get involved with organising the firm’s pro bono activity – such as scheduling and liaising with other organisations.

Again, this is a way to improve skills early on in your career which you may not otherwise have the opportunity to practice.

Volunteering is also good for your mental health. It has been shown to decrease risk of depression, increase confidence, and give a sense of meaning and wellbeing.  

For firms

There are a number of benefits for firms to take part in pro bono work. 

  • Volunteering promotes positivity amongst employees and can increase job satisfaction and retention rates. People generally feel proud to work for a firm which takes this kind of community work seriously.
  • A strong pro bono offering is something that prospective trainees ask about and consider to be important.
  • Involvement in pro bono work gives a strong message about a firm’s values – to staff, clients, and others. It can enhance the way in which the company is seen in the community.
  • Involvement in student pro bono projects means access to bright, keen, passionate prospective lawyers.

The Law Society says: “There is no question that a robust pro bono programme is a sign of a law firm’s strength. 

“It reflects the commitment of the firm to its employees, its community, the rule of law, and it justifiably burnishes the institution's reputation for hard work and creativity.”

For the community

The benefits for the community are obvious. Lawyers are trained to understand how to navigate the law and resolve legal problems.

It is easy to forget how difficult it can be for those without any legal training to find the answer to a legal problem.

Many people cannot afford to pay for advice, and so free legal help provided on a pro bono basis can be invaluable.

How do I get involved?

There are different options for lawyers who want to do pro bono work.

Many law firms offer pro bono opportunities to their lawyers, and may have a dedicated pro bono lawyer who coordinates this. But if your firm doesn’t have anything like this, opportunities still exist.

It may be useful to start by considering how you would like to make a difference: helping people in your local community obtain access to justice? Helping death row prisoners in the United States? Helping local start-ups or charities?

Here are some options you could consider.

  • There are likely to be opportunities to volunteer locally. Local law centres often require volunteers. Also, many university law schools have legal advice clinics and other pro bono projects which require solicitor involvement and supervision. LawWorks is a charity which can help to match you up with volunteering opportunities.
  • The Free Representation Unit (FRU) offers opportunities for volunteers (law students and solicitors) to support clients in employment and social security tribunals.
  • The Law Society has useful information about finding pro bono opportunities including international projects requiring volunteers

There are many other national and international projects whose details can be found online.

Solicitors and barristers who complete more than 25 hours of pro bono work in a year can also apply to join the Pro Bono Recognition List.

Practical steps for law firms

Although solicitors can volunteer individually, many firms coordinate pro bono opportunities for their staff.

This is a positive thing: junior lawyers are far more likely to get involved if they realise that their pro bono activity is valued by their employer.

Firms can promote pro bono activity by:

  • Appointing a pro bono champion, who is a partner or senior lawyer. A strong message "from the top" that this is a worthwhile thing to do will lead to greater involvement by employees.
  • Setting up a time recording code for pro bono work. It will encourage employees to think of pro bono work as valuable work, despite being non-chargeable. 
  • Finding out what kind of pro bono work employees would like to get involved in - and supporting employees by seeking out opportunities.
  • Encouraging employees to get involved if they are interested.

If you are interested, get involved! A lot of lawyers doing a little pro bono work can make a big difference.


Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

I want to know more

Read our introduction to pro bono

Explore our pro bono and international projects.

Sign up to our Pro Bono Charter

Find volunteering opportunities with charity LawWorks

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS