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The Truth about Pro Bono – event summary

Seeking to build on the momentum generated in our UK Pro Bono Week webinar, PILS organised The Truth about Pro Bono on 12 November.

Rather than wait until Pro Bono Week 2021 to initiate the conversation, the PILS team wanted to respond quickly to the clear desire to learn more that was evident during our last event.

This online discussion brought pro bono practitioners from two of the major commercial firms on PILS’ Pro Bono Register together with two human rights NGOs (who are members of the PILS Project) working for a fairer, more equitable Northern Ireland.

Our panel featured Johanna Cunningham (Arthur Cox Belfast), Jonathan Hacking (A&L Goodbody Belfast), Laura Neal (Friends of the Earth NI) and Kathryn Stevenson (Children’s Law Centre). All have practical first-hand experience of giving and receiving pro bono support.

Here are some of the main themes reflected on by the panel:

Pro bono is a collaborative and creative process. It brings organisations together (eg: the 2018 bespoke research project connecting children’s rights groups and law firms), creates alliances (eg: the UK Collaborative Plan for firms) and exposes lawyers to new challenges (the questions an NGO might pose on a particular area of law can be different to the queries that come in from clients).

When the subject matter of a pro bono query aligns with a lawyer’s specific area of expertise, the pro bono request can sit alongside their fee-earning work quite easily. There’s a way to do pro bono on your ‘bread and butter’ tasks in a way that doesn’t take over all your time as a solicitor or barrister. 

There is a clear role for ‘friendly intermediary’ organisations in pro bono matters – by linking the NGOs and legal professionals, setting out clear deadlines, and communicating the desired outcome well to both parties, these orgs (like PILS) can make the pro bono process much smoother overall.

Pro bono also provides legal professionals with a sense of solidarity. Working in an NGO, often on your own, can be a very different experience to previous private practice work where you are surrounded by colleagues. Collaborating with a pro bono practitioner can give NGO legal teams the reassurance they need to keep pursuing their campaign goals.

Ultimately, pro bono work is based on collaboration, can involve lots of different intersecting areas of law, and can have a long-lasting impact when paired with human rights NGOs.

On Demand: a recording of the entire webinar is available here.