How firms or chambers can support

    Even within a straightforward pro bono partnership, support can vary in form and can build up over time to utilise different types of resources.

    Forms of support can include:

    1. Volunteer lawyers for advice surgeries

    • This is the standard form of pro bono partnership and many advice agencies underestimate the value of this type of service; 'what would they know about what our clients need?' is a very common view among advice centre managers faced with the prospect of city lawyers advising in their centre. The answer is that 'they' would know a great deal.
    • Very few lawyers could handle a complex benefits or immigration matter, but with very basic training many could easily cope with consumer and small claims advice, rent deposit and assured shorthold tenancy matters.
    • Lawyers are courteous to clients and diligent with their work. They are a boon if used properly.

    2. Volunteer lawyers for representation at Tribunal or Court

    • Volunteer barristers are the most common source of this type of support, and are usually sourced through the Free Representation Unit or the Bar Pro Bono Unit.
    • Where a volunteer barrister is not available, a solicitor from a city firm can be excellent if working in their specialist field or with specialist support from their firm. Solicitors have the resources to do exceptionally thorough preparation for such representative matters, which lays the foundation for excellent representation.
    • With representation, as with all types of pro bono partnership, limitations must be recognised and access to a wider source of expert help obtained. The partners in a firm will normally know when to call on FRU (firms and agencies who are not existing FRU members may refer cases to FRU through LawWorks).
    • It is also well worth a partnership building a relationship with the Bar, which can be done through the Bar Pro Bono Unit. The partnership can then gain support when a case is beyond its expertise.

    3. Volunteer lawyers to undertake in-house advice and casework

    • Firms may take on a limited number of cases for clients with special difficulties as in-house pro bono cases in their own name. These tend to be cases where a particular issue of human rights is involved.
    • It is also common for firms to assist community groups with legal matters such as leases, employment, constitutions, and intellectual property. This is relatively easy for the firm as they will be acting in an area of work in which they already specialise. This is of great benefit to an advice centre who wish to support their local community groups and enjoy the rewards that brings, but who do not have the capacity or expertise in that particular area of law.
    • One of the most valuable resources from in-house pro bono as part of the CSR partnership is assisting the partner centre itself. All advice centres have legal matters to deal with from time to time; leases are the most common, but all sorts of things may arise and the old adage of 'only a fool represents himself' certainly applies to legal advice centres.

    4. Trainee placements

    • Trainees from city firms placed with their partner centre for three to six months are a fabulous resource. They are invariably committed, always bright and add capacity to the centre's ability to help clients.
    • Trainees are normally best used to support casework, interview clients, and help at Court or Tribunal.

    5. PA/Secretary/Admin secondments

    • This is another great capacity-building resource. Some firms or chambers will send a secretary or PA for a day each week, which can keep the backlog of typing under control and help with the running of the centre's office.
    • This tends to work under a rota, with a different secretary sent each week. There will, therefore, be a fair amount of repeat inductions at the start, but it is well worth the time.

    6. Free artwork and small publishing or printing jobs

    • Most firms have IT departments with good designers, and lots of chambers will include members of staff with IT expertise. So free design of posters and leaflets for a partner centre should be easily possible.
    • Designing a whole annual report might be asking a bit much initially, but when a CSR partnership has reached full momentum the partner agency can, in theory, ask for anything it needs and the firm or chambers will feel comfortable turning down the requests for jobs it cannot realistically undertake.

    7. Meeting spaces (possibly with catering)

    • Most firms have an over-capacity of meeting rooms, so it is usually relatively easy to arrange for free use of a room for a partner centre.
    • Larger firms often provide tea/coffee with a room as a matter of course, and some firms might provide full catering for a special event.

    8. Free archiving

    • This is a growing area of support involving the firm or chambers allowing the advice centre to archive files within their IT system. Effectively, the advice centre is counted as a branch office for filing purposes.
    • The advice centre files in accordance with the existing system and then has professional storage and file retrieval for free. The cost to the firm or chambers, who are bulk-buying storage, is normally far smaller than the savings made by the advice agency. This therefore provides excellent value for money while ridding the agency of cost or wasted advice space.

    9. Funding

    • Of course, funding is what advice agencies need above all else. It often comes as part of the partnership, although firms or chambers may have varying view on the issue. Normally, a relationship develops before significant funding becomes part of the package.
    • Very few firms or chambers offer funding initially; instead a firm or chambers would try to ensure that the support they provide to their partner agency is, at worst, cost neutral. For instance, an evening surgery receptionist or supervising lawyer would be paid for by the firm or chambers from the beginning.

    CSR support from city firms and chambers to agencies is developing all the time, and the list above is just a selection of methods of support currently provided by some partnerships. There will be other forms of help which arise from regular communication between the firm or chambers and the agency, which generates an understanding of each party's needs and encourages a good working relationship.


    What to do next:

    Firms that are just starting to deliver pro bono services

    • The obvious first step is to join LawWorks. LawWorks can help their members to develop their pro bono profile by arranging ad hoc pro bono opportunities, such as helping community groups through the LawWorks in the Community scheme or putting individual lawyers in touch with advice clinics staffed by lawyers from a range of firms. LawWorks can also help firms to find a suitable not-for-profit partner agency and help to develop the pro bono element of a partnership.
    • To enquire about joining LawWorks, contact Anne Monk on

    Firms with existing pro bono or CSR partnerships

    • These firms will almost certainly already be LawWorks members, and all they need to do is arrange a review meeting with their partner advice agency/agencies.
    • Having decided in advance which elements on the list the firm can provide, it is worth exploring carefully which elements the advice agency can effectively use. Then, when the advice agency has the idea of what a fuller CSR relationship can provide by way of support, they may come up with other requests.
    • To discuss pro bono service development with LawWorks, contact David Raeburn  on

    Barristers and Chambers wishing to help

    • Barristers and chambers wishing to provide pro bono help on an ad hoc basis or within a partnership structure should contact the Bar Pro Bono Unit here.
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