Why Should Big Law Firms of UK Consider 35% Of Their Time in Pro Bono Case
The concept of pro bono essentially falls within the ambit of the ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) and the biggest law of firms of UK are reportedly highly engaged to their commitment to pro bono as a part of their duty towards CSR. A report from the year of 2019 shows that 19 out of 25 big law firms of UK has increased their time in pro bono works and only 12% of the big law firms of UK has shown the signs of decreasing their time towards pro bono field . Hence, in the culture of UK as a nation, pro bono concept has been given high regard from the legal community by providing ‘national pro bono week’ where the lawyers are encouraged to engage essentially with pro bono work alone and take as much as pro bono work, they can.
While it is true that the concept of pro bono in the legal sector is highly encourage and celebrated through various means, the mandate of the CSR policies and other governmental policies, is it nearly enough?
The Concept of Pro Bono work and how much time does UK big firms invest in Pro Bono
Before dissecting the amount of time UK law firms invest in pro bono work, it is essential to understand whether as a concept, pro bono gets the right amount of focus under the firm’s policy or not. From research in the recent times, it has been seen that the overall structure of the CSR policies of the big law firms of UK are vague and ambiguous to such extent that it is impossible to draw any concrete conclusion as such . This 2015 research paper also shows that most of the big law firms of UK keeps the policy of pro bono within the ‘community giving’ sector of the CSR policy and no distinction has been made between giving out free legal aid or doing pro bono works and mere community giving . Also, among most of the biggest law firms, a handful of the law firms explain under their CSR as to why they are committed to the pro bono work.
Thus, even though the concept of pro bono has been highlighted by the UK government, London Bar council and many other sister councils throughout the country, it has been given the tag of doing free hours by lawyers in the big law firms. As the law firms of UK essentially do not regard the concept of pro bono as means of reducing the gap of justice and help in uplifting the lower section of the society , the pro bono obligation has not increased by a larger margin since the time of 1998.
From various data on the status of the big law firms of UK , it has been observed that in the year of 1998, lawyers of UK only spent 2.8% of their billable hours towards pro bono works and that margin has increased to 3.9% in the year of 2018. However, as per 76% of the total participating law firm in this particular test, the contribution of their pro bono has increased more than 20% since the year of 2016 and due to the change in policy, it is increasing more and more. It is to be noted that all these firms in this particular set of data, belong to the higher strata and they have more resources up their sleeves towards the pro bono sector . Also, from the statistics of the bar council of UK, it has been seen that in 2018, a total 11,000 hours of pro bono work has been done through the Bar Council of UK alone .
3 reasons why should big law firms of UK invest more time into pro bono sector
While it cannot be discarded that the constant strive of the UK law firms to achieve more and more expertise in the pro bono field, such efforts do not essentially cover the sheer scale of crisis, owing to the pandemic situation of 2020. While the recent published report of the law360 has stated that from more than 100 law firms of UK, an approximate 5M million hours have been contributed towards the pro bono service which stands for about 4% of the lawyers’ billable hours which might stand as a great improvement in the last 20 years but it is not nearly enough for the services that is needed by the society at large.
In the face of a worldwide pandemic and a sheer event of crisis, 4% of the pro bono hours of the biggest firms of UK is nearly not enough to deal with the wider economic problem and decrease the justice gap between different class of people. While it is not exactly deductible as to what amount of pro bono shall be enough for to reduce the economical gap of justice, from various sources, it can be found out that more than 200M hours are needed to essentially bridge the gap of justice and keep the judiciary system fair for the people who cannot afford big set of lawyers .
While there are many countries such as the USA that has mandated 50% of the lawyers’ billable hours towards the pro bono work, UK does not have any such limits and the big law firms of UK provides towards the pro bono field as per their own liking and resources. It is true that the data and report from various sources only mention how the pro bono work has been escalated in the last 4 or 5 years, it still needs to go a long way. Considering the economical condition and the ongoing pandemic of UK, it is thereby advisable to consider more than 35% of the big law firm’s billable hours towards the pro bono work and according to a recent research paper, such large-scale investment from the sides of the big law firms might actually affect the judiciary system in helping the people in need such as the needy of the immigration sector or the sexual assault cases against big firms, companies or personas .
- Diversity of experience – Pro bono work of a law firm essentially provides more diversity in experience and provides the attorneys of a firm to work in a particular sector that is not their focus field. The talents are equally balanced through pro bono work where attorneys feel interested to invest their time where social good can be done.
- Enhance the skills of the young lawyers – As it has been said that if a field does not have money, a young lawyer might not be attracted towards it and hence it creates an abundance where the litigants essentially lose cases due to incompetency of the attorneys. The big law firm’s interest in pro bono actually help in keeping the balance between the higher strata and lower strata of the society
- Scope for new relationship – Pro bono work is an excellent field for the big law firms of UK to build and promote new relationship with different other firms and client as a whole.
Even though the scope and essence of the pro bono sector has been highlighted and various firms of the UK are encouraged to do more for the needy through their pro bono policy of CSR and in view of that, national pro bono week has been declared in UK, it shall not do enough until and unless it has been made mandatory for the lawyers to provide a fixed amount of their billable hours towards pro bono work, following the same model of the United States. It might bound the hands of the attorneys and provide them with a limitation towards their practice field, in the view of the current economic state of UK and the immigration law of the country, it is only fair and just.