If MSPs find themselves struggling with the big issues at the heart of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill as it goes through stage 2 this month, they may be grateful for some relief in the form of a letter from Edinburgh IP solicitor Raymond McLennan, who is proposing the clean and simple idea that every solicitor should be obliged to carry out an annual quota of pro bono work, say 20 hours.
It's a nice idea at first sight. But at the risk of being cast firmly in the Scrooge corner, I have a gut feeling that it wouldn't be right.
For a start, we know that not all lawyers are raking in the money. You will probably put your hand up to that one if you do legal aid work – and most likely feel that a lot of your time is being given unpaid already. And many others in high street practices may be in the habit of giving one-off pieces of advice to members of the community on a relatively informal basis while relying on transaction work to bring in the fees. So what counts as pro bono and how would we keep track of who is doing what?
And we would have to face up to the necessity of practice rules, an enforcement system, people being taken to the Discipline Tribunal for not giving their time for free... I don't see our Law Society jumping with joy at the prospect of having to do that to the profession.
But going deeper, to the point of principle – is it right to try and enforce charitable giving? I would say it is something that has to come from the heart. If we try and impose it, do we not risk the whole thing becoming counterproductive and producing antagonism and resentment rather than goodwill?
Last month the Lord Advocate hosted an oversubscribed conference on pro bono at Government offices, when the huge range of work already undertaken became apparent, as well as a number of initiatives to try and co-ordinate it more effectively. I have not yet written it up but intend to report on it in the July Journal. I came away with a feeling that there is a real momentum building behind pro bono at all levels from law students upwards, and a great resource of goodwill waiting to be tapped.
That's the direction I would concentrate our efforts.