Pro bono services have been affected by the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in an unprecedented way.
Charities have had to transition their staff to home working, as providing advice through face-to-face meetings is no longer possible.
Emergency appeals have been made to make sure the advice sector remains viable, and the scale of demand has been overwhelming for many.
This guidance is for members who are thinking of providing pro bono assistance during the pandemic.
National response to pro bono
The pandemic is triggering both short and long-term consequences that include a wide range of social and legal issues for people in their everyday lives, and huge policy interventions by governments.
It’s also a huge challenge to the advice and free legal services sector and their support organisations.
We’re one of the main funders for LawWorks (the operating name for the Solicitors Pro Bono Group), a charity committed to enabling access to justice through free legal advice.
LawWorks has facilitated roundtable discussions to look at the national pro bono response.
Over 40 national organisations participated including the Law Society, funders, advice agencies and charities. The focus of the roundtables was:
- to identify legal needs arising from the health crisis
- to monitor and review the impact for providers of legal information, support, advice and representation
- to consider responses and recommendations to help address the above needs, including any potential policy recommendations (to government and others)
- to inform and support the mobilisation and co-ordination of the advice sector, legal aid, charities, volunteer lawyers and legal professionals, for people with legal and advice needs
- as part of that mobilisation, to encourage sector-wide collaborations, initiatives and technology driven solutions - sharing information, resources and learning
Visit Legal and Advice Minutes to read the minutes from previous roundtable meetings.
For more information on the work of the roundtables, email James Sandbach.
Pro bono in general
Many firms and solicitors are enquiring about pro bono opportunities.
An influx of individual enquiries to advice organisations may overwhelm their capacity to do existing work (see Rebecca Greenhalgh’s blog for more information).
Finding pro bono work as a law firm (any size)
Your firm is encouraged to connect with networks that enable coordinated pro bono responses. This will reduce the rate of individual approaches and allow for multi-firm responses wherever possible.
Your firm may already be a member of some pro bono organisations and networks.
If so, speak to your firm's pro bono contact for an update on discussions taking place through these.
If not, you can submit your firm's details using the ProBonoTogether form so that contacts from LawWorks and the UK Collaborative Plan for Pro Bono can let you know of initiatives, regional networks and more that may be relevant to your firm's location(s) or areas of expertise.
Finding pro bono work for your firm's trainee solicitors
You’re most likely to learn of suitable opportunities through coordinated efforts across pro bono networks – which might also allow you to share the cost of any external training and supervision that your trainees need in order to do specific pro bono work.
Finding pro bono work for in-house legal teams
You may wish to connect with LawWorks and the UK In-house Pro Bono Group for Pro Bono, a network of in-house legal teams who are working with LawWorks, the UK Collaborative Plan for Pro Bono and other groups to identify where and when in-house solicitors can play a pro bono role.
Finding work as an individual solicitor, trainee or law student
If you each approach advice organisations separately, you risk overwhelming them.
Complete the following registration of interest form that LawWorks has opened for individual solicitors who are willing to provide pro bono help if or when needed.
You can also highlight your interest to the pro bono contact at your firm (or law school) so that they can keep you updated on any opportunities that are developed through pro bono networks.
If your firm has no pro bono contact, you may wish to suggest that your firm identifies a contact and directs them to the guidance above for finding pro bono work.
Virtual pro bono opportunities
LawWorks is offering unique opportunities for lawyers who want to contribute to legal advice and support during the crisis.
If you would like to volunteer your legal expertise to help individuals, communities and not-for-profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, the following LawWorks programmes are looking for volunteers.
Free Legal Answers is an online platform where people on low incomes can describe a legal problem or ask a legal question and receive pro bono legal advice, with a focus on early/initial legal advice on civil law matters.
There’s no obligation to answer a legal question or problem and participants can unsubscribe at any time.
The minimum requirements for participation are that a solicitor is at least two years’ post qualified and has a current practising certificate.
Any work undertaken should conform to the Pro Bono Protocol.
Email any questions about Free Legal Answers to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Not-for-Profits programme connects small not-for-profit organisations in need of legal support with the skills and expertise of volunteer lawyers, strengthening the capacity of those organisations to deliver their services.
Issues tackled by these organisations vary enormously but commonly deal with:
- social exclusion
- special education needs
Organisations can apply to LawWorks online.
Once cases are allocated to volunteer lawyers through a bidding process, the LawWorks team remains available to help, should any issues arise, and evaluates experiences of the service.
In response to the current pandemic, the Not-for-Profits Programme have also commissioned a range of resources addressing legal questions related to the effects of COVID-19 of relevance to small NFPs.
For questions or expressions of interest, email email@example.com.
‘Secondary specialisation’ describes volunteer solicitors providing in-depth legal advice and representation to individuals in an area of law outside their usual practice.
In each project, LawWorks engages clients and volunteer solicitors working under the supervision of one of LawWorks specialist in-house solicitors, using LawWorks legal guides and template documents.
Secondary specialisation: Voices for Families
LawWorks runs a project that addresses community care law matters for the families of children with life-limiting conditions.
The project is run jointly with Together for Short Lives and partners with a range of hospices and care providers across England and Wales.
Through the programme, volunteers provide legal support on commonly occurring problems to families who can access the service through the hospice where their child is receiving treatment.
For further information, email Matt Hunt.
The LawWorks clinics programme provides consultancy and assistance to help organisations establish and support free legal advice clinics that provide advice to clients who are unable to afford legal advice and/or are not eligible for legal aid.
At this time, all clinics have suspended face-to-face advice sessions, but many are still providing advice to clients over the telephone, email or online.
More information is available on the clinics search function on LawWorks website.
In addition, LawWorks are:
- working with clinic coordinators to support them to transfer their service to offer advice remotely and to continue to support clients
- providing resources and online events to assist this alongside bespoke training opportunities
Clinics are receiving enquiries from clients with a range of queries, including employment-related issues as a result of the impact of coronavirus, but also:
- welfare benefits
- civil disputes
By giving advice to clients via telephone or online platforms, there are a number of opportunities for volunteers to get involved with well-established and new clinics and provide much needed support to clients.
For more information and to find out about the clinics that you can volunteer with, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional pro bono opportunities
Many organisations approach LawWorks on a daily basis with help advertising their pro bono opportunities.
You can visit Pro Bono Opportunities on a regular basis to see what other pro bono opportunities are available.
LawWorks also supports Pro Bono Connect which matches solicitors and barristers acting on pro bono on civil matters for individuals, charities and community groups who cannot afford legal advice or representation.
The scheme has already placed a diverse range of cases from unpaid debts to property fraud, employment law and intellectual property.
Email email@example.com if you would like to get involved.
Furloughed staff volunteering
Other ways to support access to justice
The COVID-19 outbreak is having a significant impact on access to justice.
Specialist advice agencies advise, support and represent marginalised groups.
Many of these services are struggling to make the transition to remote working and are dealing with an unprecedented scale of demand as employment, debt and benefit issues have soared during the crisis.
Services which have been identified as at risk include:
- law centres
- specialist independent agencies
- some local Citizens Advice services
If you or your firm would like to help, below are details of two causes that you may want to consider supporting:
Access to Justice Foundation and London Legal Support Trust’s Emergency Appeal
The Access to Justice Foundation, the London Legal Support Trust and its partners across the funding community have come together to fundraise for an emergency appeal that will support a national advice fund.
For further information and how to donate, visit ATJ/LLST Emergency Appeal.
Law Centres Network
The Law Centres Network is asking major law firms for their assistance in setting up an emergency justice fund, to keep law centres open throughout the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, at a time of surging need.
If your firm would like to support the Law Centres Network, email Julie Bishop.
Advice UK has launched a COVID-19 emergency appeal to help support the invaluable work that advice-giving agencies are providing across the country, whilst experiencing extreme financial pressures themselves.