How legal advice agencies can support

    The support that an agency can give to its partner firm or chambers is relatively limited, but wherever possible the partnership should be mutually beneficial.

    Benefits that a firm or chambers could expect to derive include:

    1. Regular reports

    • These reports show what the firm or chambers' support is achieving. The reports should explain the direct benefits such as the number of people helped by the pro bono lawyers. They should also describe the centre's own successes. Like any supporter or funder, the centre's partner will want to know that their support is helping with good work for disadvantaged people and the local community.
    • It reflects well on the firm or chambers if they are contributing to the successes of an excellent service. Similarly it would reflect badly on the firm or chambers if they were supporting a poor service. So it is essential that the partner agency assures the firm or chambers that their support is worthwhile.

    2. Good quality work

    • Advice at evening surgeries tends to be less controllable than other forms of advice work, but in general the work that volunteer lawyers are asked to undertake should be tailored to their abilities and should be tackling serious unmet needs for disadvantaged people.
    • Placed trainees, secretaries, and PAs should be given work that is commensurate with their abilities and which helps them to develop their skills. Trainees particularly benefit from contact with clients, case management, and decision making, and they should be given as much of that work as possible.

    3. Thanks and Recognition

    • There are some business reasons for firms and chambers to assist advice centres; for example, the benefit to the volunteers in the experience they gain in advice-giving, decision-making etc. This will happen naturally, and there is little that needs to be done by the advice agency beyond providing quality work for the volunteers where possible. And saying thank-you.
    • A good CSR profile does help firms and chambers with recruitment, and in showing their clients that they share their values. This is enhanced if the firm, chambers, or volunteers gain recognition for their CSR activities. So if, for example, a volunteer has been outstanding, the agency could nominate them for an award. Lawyer Magazine, Young Solicitors Group, the Law Society, and LawWorks all have awards for pro bono work with varying criteria. Firms, chambers or volunteers can nominate themselves, and will need their agency's support in this.
    • It will take time for a partnership to develop to the stage where awards can be considered. In that time, advice agencies should remember to say thank-you for the support in writing. This is not simply polite, but, along with reports, enables those in charge of the CSR programme to show the whole firm or chambers that their support is effective and appreciated.
    • Generally advice agencies must remember that the relationship is a partnership. The support provided is normally unconditional and unrestricted in audit terms, but all funders will expect their partner agency to reflect well on them. This is not a matter of changing the agency's work.
    • The firm or chambers will want the agency to fight for disadvantaged people. They want agencies to support the underdog and they generally support social policy work too. They just want to know that the work is high quality and effective, so agencies should remember to tell them that, and thank them for their support.


    What to do next:

    Advice Agencies

    • If you already have a partner organisation, ask for what you need. If your partnership is sound, they won't mind being asked and will agree to what they can.
    • If you do not have a partnership, join LawWorks and they will help you to find one. Contact Patrick Cahill on
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    © London Legal Support Trust 2015