“There are many in the legal profession who are committed to helping those people who need legal help and advice and Pro Bono Week is a fantastic way to recognise and celebrate the their efforts and encourage others to get involved. Just 10 hours of a solicitor or advocate’s time every year could make an enormous difference to people’s lives.”
With these words from their patron, Dame Elish Angiolini, Law Works Scotland no doubt hoped to raise their profile and generate added goodwill during this, National Pro Bono Week. Instead they attracted a veritable tornado of criticism, much of it through Twitter, from lawyers who feel that the former Lord Advocate fails to appreciate that they already expend much time providing advice or other services without reward.
Looking at what was actually said, it is hard to understand why this should be. The whole thrust of it is recognising current commitment and urging those not already involved in some way to do likewise. That becomes even clearer when you consider LawWorks chairman Ian Moffett's words immediately following:
"There is a strong tradition of pro bono work in Scotland... There are many marvellous initiatives under which legal services are provided on a voluntary basis... Our aim is to help boost these efforts, increase the impact and reach of pro bono and encourage more firms and individuals to get involved."
Harking back to the meeting last year that paved the way for LawWorks (click here for Journal feature), it was equally recognised there by speakers from all sizes of practice, not to mention the in-house sector, that there are many ways of furthering the cause of pro bono. LawWorks' mission is not to supplant any of this but to help co-ordinate where that is needed.
LawWorks has obviously been caught on the back foot by this week's goings-on, and could have restated its message much more effectively than it has. It has nothing to be ashamed of. It was after that meeting last year that the Firm magazine, which has set the tone for this week's debate, ran an editor's blog supporting a call for a mandatory annual 20 hours' pro bono work - twice that suggested as voluntary by Dame Elish. Where, if anywhere, does it stand now?