Become your firm's pro bono pioneer
Brogan Solomon explains how junior lawyers can alleviate their firms' concerns about pro bono work by highlighting the opportunities available and skills they can develop
The 15th annual National Pro Bono Week (NPBW) commenced on 7 November 2016 to highlight the work undertaken by the legal profession on a pro bono basis and celebrate the positive impact of this work.
Pro bono isn’t confined to just one week, but NPBW highlights the challenge sometimes faced by junior lawyers wanting to get involved. A common question that the Junior Lawyers’ Division (JLD) is asked is ‘how can I show my firm that pro bono is a good thing?’ or ‘how can I encourage my firm to let me get involved with pro bono?’.
Many firms go to considerable lengths to ensure that they assist in the provision of pro bono advice, with some even incorporating some pro bono hours into fee earners’ annual targets. However, not all firms adopt this approach and sometimes junior lawyers can find themselves having to justify participation in pro bono opportunities.
If you are faced with such a situation then you may feel like there is little to be gained in raising this with your employer, but this is not true. Your employer may be unaware of the opportunities available or may have concerns about resources. The insurance requirements are also often misunderstood, particularly if you are hoping to establish a new forum for delivering work pro bono or to work in partnership with another body.
The first thing to do is to make sure you do your research, to help alleviate any concerns your employer may have. The Law Society has lots of information on its website about this and, in November 2015, created a ‘pro bono toolkit’ to help make it easier for firms to understand best practice and avoid pitfalls.
Present your boss with a handful of different schemes that you would be interested in and set out a plan of how this can fit around your normal fee-earning work. Perhaps you have a colleague who you could team up with to demonstrate that there are others within your firm with an appetite for pro bono. There is a huge variety of schemes and they do not all involve you taking on a case and running it all the way through.
It is also important to highlight to the skills you will develop from taking part in pro bono, such as client contact, interviewing, advising, drafting, and so on. Furthermore, those who are willing to take part in pro bono are often stretching themselves and naturally tend to display characteristics of organised, efficient people.
Do not forget that there may be ways in which you can get involved in pro bono outside work too. Look out for advice centres in your area – some have their own insurance, which means that you could carry out this work separately from your firm, so long as there is no rule or provision in your employment contract to the contrary. So be confident, and use the momentum of NPBW to become a pioneer.
Brogan Solomon is a committee member of the Junior Lawyers Division