Hayley Nock worked as an in-house lawyer for over a decade before joining the pro bono charity LawWorks as a Programme Officer in their Not-for-Profits team. In this article, she shares three ways that in-house solicitors can get involved in pro bono activities and use their skills to help those in need.
Most solicitors will agree that providing pro bono legal advice is something to be applauded. Through pro bono work, solicitors can use their expertise to help individuals and organisations who are in need of legal advice but are not able to afford it. Recent research commissioned by the Law Society warned that the cost of living crisis could drive a wedge into an already widening justice gap, so it’s likely that pro bono advice will be increasingly important in the coming months.
Pro bono work also has huge personal benefits for the volunteer. Volunteers get valuable hands-on experience, as well as a chance to develop skills and boost their professional reputation. It can also have a positive impact on the volunteer’s mental health by reducing feelings of isolation, increasing confidence and providing a sense of purpose.
Pro Bono for In-House Legal Professionals
I often shied away from pro bono projects during my career as an in-house lawyer. Did I really have the right expertise to provide pro bono advice to a charity or individual? How would I handle practical issues like professional indemnity insurance? And how would I go about finding the right opportunity to help someone in need of advice?
By working for a pro bono charity I’ve come to realise that any lawyer – whether in private practice or in-house – can do pro bono work that makes a real difference to the lives of vulnerable people. In-house lawyers have valuable experience, training, and skills that are readily transferable to real-life situations and can help solve the legal problems faced by individuals and charitable organisations. If you are an in-house legal professional keen to get involved in pro bono, then here are three great places to start.
1. Work with a pro bono organisation
Given my role at LawWorks, it would be remiss of me not to start with the fantastic work that pro bono organisations do to support the legal sector. These organisations focus on brokering relationships between those who need legal advice and volunteer lawyers who are able to provide that advice for free. LawWorks is the country’s leading pro bono charity for solicitors, and it supports volunteers from over 140 law firms and in-house teams across England & Wales. LawWorks runs various programmes including:
- Clinics Programme: LawWorks can support you in setting up a new clinic to help individuals in need of legal support, or you can join one of the established clinics in its network.
- Not-for-Profits Programme: Volunteers can give legal advice to small charities and not-for-profits who would otherwise struggle to afford legal support. Organisations regularly need advice on discrete legal matters relating to a property, IP, data protection, contract, corporate, dispute resolution and employment law.
- Secondary Specialisation: LawWorks supports volunteers who want to develop expertise in a new area of law, such as social welfare law where the need is significant and supply increasingly limited.
Working with a pro bono organisation can be a time-effective way for busy in-house teams to do pro bono work, as the pro bono organisation will find and vet pro bono projects that are tailored to your requirements. As an example, LawWorks’ Not-for-Profits Programme team reviews applications from organisations in need and works with those organisations to scope the legal issue. They will then prepare a legal brief and document bundle for the volunteer to review. Volunteers save time on legal admin and can instead focus on the more fulfilling aspects of pro bono work. Importantly for in-house teams, LawWorks also has professional indemnity insurance for pro bono work completed by in-house professionals as part of its programmes.
2. Partner with a law firm
Another great way to get involved in pro bono work is to approach the law firms that you work with to see if you can slot into their existing pro bono projects. Firms often extend pro bono opportunities to their in-house clients, seeing it as an opportunity to deepen their relationship with the client. It also gives them a chance to demonstrate the added value that they can bring to the table.
Most law firms run pro bono programmes, with many of the larger firms having a dedicated pro bono team responsible for finding pro bono opportunities that align with the firm’s strategic goals. Firms can often leverage this resource to find pro bono projects that suit the in-house team’s skill set. Law firms can usually project manage the pro bono matter so that the in-house lawyer can focus on providing the advice. They can also often source additional resources should there be a need to fill skills or capacity gaps later down the line. In some cases, the firm’s professional indemnity insurance may cover the in-house team’s pro bono legal work too.
3. Join the In-House Pro Bono Group
The In-House Pro Bono Group was founded in 2019 and is made up of various in-house legal teams who believe that pro bono work is a professional responsibility for all lawyers. They connect in-house lawyers with charities and pro bono professionals, as well as share knowledge and resources to help strengthen in-house pro bono services.
The Group has a number of sub-committees formed around different ideas or events they are planning, and you can join one of these sub-committees by getting in touch with them. Their website contains a useful list of pro bono broker organisations, together with a comprehensive guide for in-house teams packed with helpful tips for starting and building an in-house pro bono programme.