Have you ever represented a client pro bono at a hearing (perhaps defending a strike-out application, or obtaining relief from sanctions), but wished you could do more to help them with their case in the future? Pro Bono Connect provides a mechanism for obtaining pro bono solicitor support, so that pro bono litigants can be represented in the same way as fee-paying clients.
The genesis of Pro Bono Connect
Pro Bono Connect was launched in 2015 to establish a network of chambers and solicitor firms willing to work together on pro bono cases in civil matters. The scheme aimed to build on existing structures for sourcing pro bono work (in particular, Advocate and LawWorks) so as to enable barristers doing work pro bono to request assistance from a participating solicitor, and vice versa. There was no requirement for anyone to accept a request, only to consider doing so. If a request was accepted, the barrister and solicitor would work on the pro bono case together.
From the outset, the aims of the scheme were to: (a) increase the scope, range and volume of pro bono work taken on by barristers and solicitors; (b) make pro bono work more manageable and efficient by sharing the workload and using the complementary skills offered by barristers and solicitors; and (c) strengthen existing barrister/solicitor relationships and foster new ones.
Pro Bono Connect today
Seven years on, the fundamental aims of Pro Bono Connect are unchanged. There are now 49 participating law firms, and 51 participating chambers. Barristers and solicitors have successfully been matched on over 170 cases. The focus of cases placed through the scheme continues to reflect the practice areas of its participants – contractual disputes, civil fraud, employment, housing, bankruptcy/insolvency, property, and tax. The scheme now also includes a specialist family law group of participating firms and chambers. Initially London-centric, the geographical range of participating firms and chambers has now extended to include those from Wales and major legal centres such as Manchester and Leeds.
One of the key advantages of barristers and solicitors working together on pro bono cases is that assistance can be sought with running a case to trial: in the vast majority of cases this would be an impossible commitment for a single lawyer, but with solicitors and counsel on board, although this is still a significant commitment, the various workstreams can be shared as they would be on a fee-paying case.
The future of pro bono collaboration
Despite the benefits of matching solicitors and barristers to work together pro bono, there are a range of other resources and professional services which are used in litigation, which are beyond the reach of a client which cannot afford legal representation: they may wish to participate in a mediation, or need to instruct an expert witnesses; they are unlikely to have free access to a document review platform for disclosure.
Pro Bono Connect provides a tried and tested model for pro bono collaboration, but if pro bono clients are to be in a position to litigate on a truly equal footing with fee-paying opponents, it will be necessary to apply the model to other services needed by litigants. Pro Bono Connect will continue to assist barristers and solicitors seeking support for pro bono work for years to come; there is no reason why other sectors providing litigation services should not become part of a network of pro bono collaborators too.
As part of Pro Bono Week this year Pro Bono Connect are running a breakfast seminar from 8:30 to 10:00 on Thursday 10 November at the offices of Arnold & Porter LLP.
About the author: Eleanor Campbell is a member of One Essex Court, where she has a broad practice in commercial law. She has been a member of the Pro Bono Connect executive committee since the inception of the scheme in 2015.