Pro bono work contributes to the public good. In doing pro bono work barristers forgo paid opportunities. The primary motivation is, or should be, altruistic.
So far, so obvious.
Through all our work, we create value. In transactional terms, anyone undertaking pro bono work will have decided that the value added to the client (and/or society in general) will outweigh the loss of financial opportunity to himself/ herself.
And yet less often included in this equation, perhaps, is the value we can add to our own practice through pro bono work. There is a sound business case for working pro bono, and here are three aspects of it:
1) Building your skills
As a junior (or even baby) barrister without appellate experience, if an ordinary appeal to the Court of Appeal (for example) comes into Chambers – i.e. one which is publicly or even privately funded – the chances of you picking it up as opposed to someone a few years’ call ahead of you who has appeared there before are very slim.
If the case is pro bono, that’s a very different matter. These types of cases crop up fairly frequently through, for example, the Bar Pro Bono Unit, and often are suitable to those of limited call. Cases like this provide the opportunity to bolster your CV well ahead of schedule and obtain a meaningful competitive advantage.
So far, I’ve used the classic definition of pro bono work, i.e. “providing legal services free of charge”. Undoubtedly, taking on this kind of work will allow you to expand your professional network.
But there are other legally-focused opportunities to work pro bono outside of this definition. For example, there are various working groups within the Circuits and Bar Associations focused on access to justice issues, often contributing to policy debates and Government consultations.
Activities like this can be fascinating, and aside from the societal benefit in participating, you will have the opportunity to work closely with leaders within the profession and, in so doing, add to your own professional network.
Pro bono work can also be a valuable marketing tool. For example, taking on pro bono cases can put you in the running for the various “Pro Bono lawyer of the year” awards by professional associations and regional pro bono organisations. Even if you don’t win one of these awards, being seen to do pro bono work will improve your credibility, and that of your Chambers or firm.
There are also reputational benefits. For example, should you find yourself in the Court of Appeal (to continue the above example), you will find that your tribunal will appreciate your acting pro bono; something which is unlikely to harm your reputation among the judiciary.
So, to conclude, those who might be mulling over whether or not to take a few hours out of their diary for pro bono work? Make sure that, as well as considering the public good, you consider the business case and potential marketing and reputational benefits.
Sam Roake is a criminal barrister at Charter Chambers, and a member of the Young Barristers’ Committee, and is the young bar representative on the Bar Council’s Pro Bono Board of the Bar Council of England and Wales.