- In the past, much of the emphasis in these two areas has been on the activities of the large City law firms. This approach is flawed for a number of reasons:
- these firms are the elite 10% of the profession. A reshuffling of the composition of the elite will do little for the underlying diversity challenge faced by the whole profession
- they offer a volunteering resource rather than a pro bono resource. It is well supported and funded. It will undoubtedly be an important part of the new order but it tends to be in the wrong places geographically and in the wrong areas of the law
- they each have a separate set of aims and priorities and their pro bono activities are part of their public face and therefore not suited to collaborative activities which may not generate profile for the firm.2.The areas of law which require greater resource (both pro bono and regular dedicated resource) are the areas which touch people in their personal lives- housing, welfare, debt, education, mental health, immigration, employment being examples. These areas of law are not practised to any material extent by large commercial firms.3. The entities which practise many of these areas of law tend to be at the smaller end of the profession and many of them are not sustainably profitable. They do, however, employ a more diverse range of practitioners that the larger commercial firms. They are also much closer to the needs of living (as distinct from corporate) members of society and therefore reflect and understand contemporary Britain much better than their large City counterparts. They are spread across the country.
4. The starting point for a pro bono strategy should therefore be the host of smaller organisations which exist throughout the United Kingdom. New networks are developing which are designed to meet the needs of these smaller organisations through smarter, often remote deployment of resources drawing on volunteer lawyers, retired lawyers, career break lawyers, student lawyers and people helping themselves. These networks will try to empower ordinary people to help themselves whilst using the law effectively and lawyers where necessary. If City firms can be encouraged to support these initiatives, that will ensure their success but City firms are not the starting point nor are they the focal point for any policy aimed at encouraging such initiatives.
5. A strategic approach will begin by recognising and valuing the fact that true pro bono resource comes from social welfare law practitioners in small organisations who continue to serve clients after the fee has been exhausted. This point is often overlooked. There are many volunteers who are rightly applauded but pro bono is provided by individuals who are doing their day job for free.
6. Voluntary sector organisations currently provide a significant underpinning of the provision of services to ordinary citizens. These voluntary organisations struggle to afford advice on their own account on how to constitute themselves, how to deal with the complex procurement and compliance rules which face them, how to deal with employment issues and many other similar challenges. They badly need a system which offers affordable advice in areas which are common to many of them and which would be well suited to a central online, remote facility which would release much resource and energy on their part to deal with the real issues that they face.
7. Many of the organisations which deliver advice to ordinary citizens are themselves diverse in their make-up. They are closer to contemporary society than City firms and therefore reflect its make up rather more closely. Many of them do not recruit trainees or legal apprentices because they are not sufficiently confident of their own financial prospects to take on the burden of a paid trainee or apprentice. There is an urgent need for greater capacity in these consumer facing sectors. Instead of asking City elites to adjust the make-up of their trainees (the top 10% of the 5,000 trainees taken on annually in England and Wales), why not focus on expanding the range of training contracts and apprenticeships offered by high street firms, advice sector agencies and similar organisations which do not require encouragement to be diverse but instead need help to grow. This has little to do with legal aid but everything to do with helping to build a new culture of business sustainability in these areas of legal practice. This, if done wisely, offers the opportunity to displace the current debate about legal aid with a new debate about legal SMEs, affordable law and economic growth in the regions aided by diverse and technologically enabled small businesses.
8. A new one-nation strategy might:
- encourage Oxfam and Google to produce a remote on-line resource to serve all voluntary organisations
- encourage Modria to use its e-bay expertise to develop virtual courts which are accessible to all
- encourage social welfare firms and agencies to take on trainees with large law firms filling in the training gaps
- encourage universities to provide student led law clinics with the support of large law firms
- encourage US social welfare law models for remotely resourced solutions supported by Microsoft to develop UK lookalikes
- encourage more sophisticated clearing houses for volunteers to be matched with demand and facilitate on-line training and know-how support for those volunteers
- encourage existing advice sector networks to develop open online resources with remote bespoke interventions where necessary
- develop smarter apps and online tools to enable citizens to use the law without using a lawyer until they need one.
All these things are in fact happening and a number of them are supported by City firms. If successful they will provide a more diverse profession and a greater chance of access to justice. The infrastructure needs to be developed before the bill is presented to the City.