A regional pro bono support network pilot scheme has been such a success it is set to roll out nationally. This will help communities, throughout the country, gain access to justice.
LawWorks and Northumbria University leading the way
In November 2011 LawWorks, in conjunction with Northumbria University established the North East Pro Bono Hub. This pilot scheme aimed to create a regional presence to facilitate and co-ordinate pro bono activity in the north-east by building a network of legal service stakeholders willing to provide pro bono assistance. At the same time, the hub can promote projects within the community raising the profile of the pro bono work undertaken by the local profession and allowing individuals and community groups to access the assistance they require.
Hugh Welch, Senior Partner at Muckle LLP supports the creation of regional networks, stating: ‘The creation of a true regional network of firms willing to handle pro bono work would be a great development. It would be a great resource for this region and, equally importantly, a network of firms acting together could achieve so much more than those same firms simply working in isolation from each other.’
In less than a year, the North East Pro Bono Hub has helped to establish four legal advice clinics in the north of England enabling members of the public to access free legal advice. In particular, the North East Pro Bono Hub worked together with Newcastle-based deaf-led charity, Becoming Visible, to establish a legal clinic for the deaf community who have faced significant problems in accessing legal advice.
In providing a regional point of contact, the hub has also assisted in the referral of pro bono casework amongst members ensuring that pro bono clients continue to receive the representation they need. As such, if any members are unable to provide assistance, they can actively refer cases through the hub and therefore ensure worthwhile cases are not lost in the system.
Following the success of the North East Pro Bono Hub, LawWorks plans to roll out the model with hubs already in the very early planning stages for Manchester, Yorkshire and Bristol. It is intended that the hubs will follow the same model but each will have their own unique regional identity building a strong sustainable pro bono network throughout the country.
It is anticipated that the need for pro bono advice will be greater than ever following the reforms to legal aid which take effect in April 2013. Whilst it is recognised that pro bono is not, and should not be a replacement for a properly funded public legal system, the profession should not ignore the gaps in access to justice in the communities they serve.
If you are interested in becoming a member of the North East Pro Bono Hub, or in supporting any other of the planned hubs in any capacity, please contact Rebecca Hilsenrath at [email protected]
This is an extract from The Law Society Gazette Friday 26 October 2012 by Paul McKeown.