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Law Society report shows solicitor commitment to pro bono work

Partners more likely to provide free legal advice compared with associates

3 November 2014

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A new report from the Law Society shows that 42 per cent of solicitors have undertaken pro bono work during the last 12 months.

The research involved the views of 1,517 solicitors interviewed by telephone from July to October 2014. Solicitors were asked about different aspects of their working lives and about any pro bono work they might have undertaken.

The results of the survey showed that 65 per cent of solicitors had conducted pro bono work at some point in their legal career.

The proportion of in-house solicitors providing pro bono services had decreased significantly in the latest figures, dropping from 23 per cent in 2013 to 16 per cent in 2014.

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of sole practitioners reported having conducted pro bono work in the last 12 months, compared with 43 per cent of practitioners working in the largest law firms.

Private practice

The proportion of solicitors undertaking pro bono work in firms with between 26 to 80 partners increased between 2013 and 2014 from 33 per cent to 41 per cent. Meanwhile, the proportion of those giving free legal advice in 81-plus partner firms decreased compared with 2013 figures from 51 per cent to 43 per cent.

The report also found that sole practitioners (76 per cent) and those in the largest firms (81 per cent) were the most likely to report that there were adequate opportunities to undertake pro bono work.

Within private practices, solicitors at partnership level were more likely to provide pro bono services than other private practitioners.

The proportion of assistant or associate solicitors undertaking pro bono work decreased compared with 2013 figures from 45 per cent to 38 per cent. The proportion of those in partnership-equivalent positions remained approximately the same.

The average number of pro bono hours worked by solicitors over the past year was 52 hours.

Adequate opportunities?

However, of those not providing pro bono services in the last 12 months, 40 per cent suggested there were not adequate opportunities to do so. Sixty percent of solicitors working in central and local government stated this, compared with 47 per cent of those working in house and 35 per cent of private practitioners.

Preferences for channels through which to deliver pro bono services included employers (62 per cent), personal contacts or interests (42 per cent), law centres (24 per cent), existing clients (23 per cent) and Law Works clinics (12 per cent).

Other sources mentioned by respondents included refuges, local councils, charities, law schools and universities, law societies, campaign, community and advocacy groups and through 'random off-street opportunities'.

Reasons provided by practitioners for not doing pro bono work included employment contracts which did not permit pro bono activities and concerns over whether professional indemnity insurance covered such activities.

£601m value?

The estimated value of pro bono work across all private practice solicitors totalled £601m, which is the equivalent of approximately 2.8 per cent of the total turnover generated by solicitors firms. This represents an increase in both the value of pro bono work provided in 2013 and in terms of the proportion of total turnover.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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