72% of barristers do pro bono work

13 April 2015

A survey undertaken by Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) sought to establish the level of pro bono work amongst the legal profession.

The key findings of the survey are:

  • encouraging levels of pro bono work across Ireland, with almost three-quarters of practitioners engaging in such work during their career and 38% doing so on a regular basis;
  • most lawyers are motivated to take on pro bono work because they feel it is their professional responsibility and it is work they find rewarding;
  • time constraints are the biggest obstacle for lawyers who usually volunteer their legal skills, but being too busy is not the primary reason why practitioners who are interested in taking on pro bono work have not done so to date. Instead the difficulty in identifying such work is seen as the biggest barrier; and,
  • senior practitioners, particularly partners in law firms and Senior Counsel, take on the most pro bono work and do it most regularly which shows promise in terms of ingraining pro bono culture.

One of the main concerns highlighted through the survey was that pro bono work is only one way of addressing access to justice, and not the complete answer. The value of legal services must not be undermined, and co-ordination must be effective in ensuring such work is addressing solely unmet legal need.   The type of pro bono services offered by barristers included undertaking general legal research, opinions or drafting.  The survey also found that most respondents (46%) are referred pro bono work by fellow barristers or solicitors, which corresponds with the fact that barristers are less likely to be approached by individuals – although a source of pro bono work for 22% of those surveyed – and more reliant on their relationship with solicitors. NGOs and independent law centres are a significant source of pro bono work for barristers (43%), followed by family or friends (22%), the Bar Council’s Voluntary Assistance Scheme (21%) and PILA (19%).   The Voluntary Assistance Scheme (VAS) was established by the Bar Council in 2004 and is the official pro bono scheme of the Bar of Ireland.  Establishing the VAS is a representation of one of the fundamental principles of the legal profession – to ensure access to justice. Over the past 10 years, in excess of 500 requests for assistance have been taken on for over 100 organisations through the VAS and its outreach to new organisations is being expanded on a consistent basis. The Co-ordinator of VAS is Dianne Duggan who can be contacted via vas@lawlibrary.ie