A practical how-to guide to doing pro bono in 2021
To mark the UK-wide festival of pro bono’s milestone 20th year, the PILS team were joined online by a panel of talented pro bono practitioners.
Throughout the past year, the PILS staff team have had many conversations with our members and prospective legal volunteers about what pro bono actually is, how our Pro Bono Register process works, and the impact that legal volunteering can ultimately have. What better time to answer those questions publicly than during UK Pro Bono Week 2021!
All four of our speakers came from different spheres of the legal profession – an experienced counsel, one commercial solicitor, a former student clinician and the coordinator of a public interest alliance – all united in their belief that legal pro bono can achieve positive change.
Our webinar – Real Life Pro Bono – aimed to combine inspirational storytelling with solid practical advance. The goal? To share a mix of magic and realism to arm curious practitioners with everything they need to know to make effective pro bono part of their work day. All in 60 mins.
And our panel were undoubtedly up to the task! What followed was an uplifting and progressive conversation about current pro bono activity in Northern Ireland, what is involved in a pro bono project, and the opportunities that exist to unleash even more of its potential in the coming year.
Here is a selection of highlights (and the timestamps for you to jump straight in!)
The Dublin-based Public Interest Law Alliance was set up in 2009 – the same year as PILS. Its Legal Manager Danielle Curtis described how Ireland has seen a paradigm shift in mindset over the last decade, from loosely organised activities to well-structured proactive pro bono delivery.
- [At 13 mins 40 secs] Listen in for a concrete example of how Irish law firms and NGOs forge partnerships through PILA’s legal assistance schemes: Mercy Law Resource Centre, A&L Goodbody and Focus Ireland teamed up to tackle Dublin’s escalating housing crisis.
[16.10] If you want to learn more about the Pro Bono Pledge Ireland, go to this point in the webinar.
Listen to commercial solicitor Lauren Taylor discuss how she is tackling misconceptions through her pro bono work.
- [23.20] During the summer of 2021, Lauren and a team from ALG’s Belfast office prepared a bespoke legal training session for PILS NGO member Positive Life. Organised through the PILS Pro Bono Register, hear why Lauren found this matter so personally satisfying.
[25.00] Pro bono projects like these dismantle the unhelpful myth that solicitors in commercial firms aren’t a good fit for pro bono. Corporate teams have lots of expertise to offer – technical details can build really meaningful pro bono!
Steven McQuitty gave a masterclass in how barristers in Northern Ireland can share their skills on a voluntary basis. A practitioner who was first instructed by PILS way back in 2012, he shared five key ingredients of doing pro bono in 2021: do it to the same standard as your paid work, set aside adequate time, consult with other experts, don’t be afraid to ask questions and consider all your funding options [from 32 mins].
- [30.40] Also, this part of the webinar is where Steven talks in detail about Drumragh – the judicial review that became known as a ‘gamechanger’ for the integrated education sector
UPDATE: since the PILS webinar took place, the Drumragh judicial review was also featured as a case study by UK Pro Bono Week as part of its 20 Cases, 20 Years initiative:
The judicial review involving @_Drumragh has been referred to as ‘a gamechanger’ for #IntegratedEducation!@PILSni shared our experience of #ProBono collaboration with @ProBonoWeekUK as part of their #20Years20Cases call:
👩🏫@IEFNI @niciebelfast https://t.co/VybcxAwTll
— The PILS Project (@PILSni) November 3, 2021
Many listeners will be able to identify with the reflections shared by Claire McVicker (note: this PILS author certainly can!) – on the existential crisis that lots of students face, triggered by the end of their undergraduate degree. Claire’s pro bono journey navigated that crossroads into the unique LLM Access to Justice at Ulster University and this opened up the world of practical legal advocacy skills to her.
- [At 38.50] Claire describes the role of the student-led Ulster Law Clinic and how the 300 hours of pro bono she completed taught her about client care, emotional intelligence and resilience.
- [42 mins] If you’re curious about how COVID-19 impacted the Clinic’s work and the student clinicians who staffed in, listen in at this point.
WEBINAR: Real Life Pro Bono - UK PBW 2021
To celebrate UK Pro Bono Week’s 20th birthday, The PILS Project held a special pro bono storytelling event on 2 November 2021.
A stellar panel of pro bono champions joined PILS live to discuss how to do pro bono in Northern Ireland in 2021.
- Danielle Curtis, legal manager with the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA), Dublin
- Lauren Taylor, corporate solicitor at A&L Goodbody Belfast
- Steven McQuitty BL, barrister
- PILS Pro Bono Register volunteer Claire McVicker, Ulster University Law Clinic alum