Thousands of lawyers committed to ‘Pro Bono Pledge’
Over 70 signatories, representing in excess of 2,000 legal professionals, have come together to pledge free legal services for those who need it most.
The “Pro Bono Pledge Ireland”, a new initiative which asks the legal profession to commit to promoting access to justice by providing free legal assistance to those in need, was launched this morning.
The initiative has been developed by an independent grouping of law firms, barristers and in-house legal teams, with the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA), part of legal rights group FLAC, co-ordinating the pledge.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee, Bar chairperson Maura McNally SC and Law Society president James Cahill were among those supporting the pledge at the online launch event this morning.
At the time of launch, the pledge has over 70 founding signatories, representing more than 2,000 solicitors and barristers.
Seven of Ireland’s 10 biggest firms by number of practising solicitors – A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox, Matheson, McCann FitzGerald, Mason Hayes & Curran, Eversheds Sutherland and Ronan Daly Jermyn – are among the 46 firms which have signed up to the pledge, as well as 19 individual barristers, three individual solicitors and two in-house legal teams.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Ms McEntee said: “Pro Bono Pledge Ireland represents an excellent model for pro bono delivery in Ireland. It recognises the voluntary contribution members of the legal profession make in pledging their time and skills for the benefit of people who need them.
“It serves to enhance access to justice while also promoting a culture of volunteerism and corporate social responsibility. I congratulate FLAC, PILA and all Pledge partners on this important and valuable initiative.”
FLAC chairperson Peter Ward SC said: “Pro Bono Pledge Ireland is the first collaborative effort in Ireland to articulate the shared professional responsibility of lawyers to promote access to justice through pro bono legal work. It recognises the substantial and growing level of pro bono contribution by the legal profession towards meeting unmet legal need.
“This need, of course, is now even more pressing due to the pandemic, where the FLAC phone line has been inundated with very stressed callers seeking urgent legal advice and PILA has seen a 50 per cent increase in demand for pro bono legal services from NGO partners.”
He added that “while this pro bono pledge can never be a substitute for a properly funded system of legal aid, it is a vital and very welcome strategy which will increase access to justice for vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals and groups.”
Ms McNally said: “Law Library members have a long tradition of providing assistance and advice, both to individuals and organisations, on a pro bono basis. The opportunity now to have this important work recognised by Pro Bono Pledge Ireland is a welcome step, and will greatly assist in the understanding of how the profession contributes to the wider wellbeing of the community.
“Our association with FLAC, PILA, other similar free legal centres and indeed our own Voluntary Assistance Scheme, all represent examples of the Bar, working together to share its skills with those most in need.”
Mr Cahill said: “The undertaking of legal work for people with legal needs but no capacity to pay is part of the DNA of the legal profession in Ireland.
“In supporting this voluntary initiative, we recognise the huge amount of unpaid work already done by solicitors and affirm our commitment to developing that tradition into the future in collaboration with PILA, FLAC and our colleagues at the Bar.
“The Law Society is proud to support the work of FLAC and the Community Law Centres through annual contributions from members and, now Pro Bono Pledge Ireland.”