Britain is experiencing a legal advice deficit. Pro Bono Community (‘PBC’) is a registered charity which provides specialist training so as to equip lawyers, trainees, and law students with the skills and expertise to become effective volunteers, before placing them in advice agencies. By training volunteers and providing them with volunteering placements, we aim to increase the amount - and improve the quality - of free legal advice in the areas of law affecting those in need.
The charity’s primary aim is to help advice agencies increase the scope and quality of advice they can offer to some of the most vulnerable people in society. In order to improve access to justice, we have developed rigorous, specialised training courses for lawyers, trainees and law students, delivered by experts in the relevant field. In addition to arranging placements for the volunteers in advice agencies, PBC also seeks to help those organisations overcome the constraints on their capacity to use more volunteers effectively.
Furthermore, by developing a range of high level, standardised courses we aim to improve the quality of education in the advice sector in general. In addition to the benefits to the advice agencies, attendees of PBC’s training gain valuable skills and experience in areas of the law they are unlikely to have come across either in law school or practice. We hope that our training will serve to embed the pro bono culture in the hearts and minds of young lawyers and that many of them will go on to become champions for volunteering and pro bono work in their future careers.
One of our strategic objectives is to gain formal accreditation for our training with a view to integrating it into the curriculum of law students, thus increasing the level of support advice agencies receive as well as embedding an understanding of and enthusiasm for social welfare law in young lawyers. We are increasingly making use of technology in innovative ways to achieve our aims.
In the year from September 2020, PBC trained cohorts of lawyers, trainees and students from law firms and universities including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Morgan Lewis, City University, University of Westminster, LSE, University College London, the University of Law, Goldsmiths, BPP and Royal Holloway. The income derived from sales to law firms and universities was supplemented by grant income from Tudor Trust, City Bridge Trust, London Community Response Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund.
PBC is committed to finding ways to mitigate the constraints on the use of volunteers by advice agencies as a result of limited resources for supervision. Furthermore, the charity sought to develop grant applications for projects which address the needs of people whose lives have been adversely affected by Covid-19 and its consequences.
In the summer of 2020 we successfully applied for grants from London Community Response Fund (LCRP) and National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF) to set up and run supervised digital advice clinics which included dedicated resource for supervision and involved PBC more actively in the running of the clinics. The LCRP project was operated in partnership with Citizens Advice Islington and the NLCF project with Citizens Advice Haringey.
Both projects were designed to trial the provision of end-to-end digital advice in which all participants – trainers, supervisors, administrators, volunteers and clients – were located remotely. The projects were focused on groups particularly affected by the impact of Covid-19: benefits claimants in Islington who needed help with ill health and disability benefit claims and challenges; and people living in the private rented sector in Haringey experiencing difficulties with housing, employment and debt. Both projects were delivered successfully, generating income gains for clients well in excess of £100,000 and producing valuable learning for future digital advice clinics.