Next in our summer series of blog posts, recent graduate Angharad Butler shares how participation in the Criminal Justice Clinic changed her understanding of the value of pro bono work.
This year I took part in the Open Justice Criminal Justice Clinic (‘CJC’), and it has opened my eyes to the importance of pro bono work to wider society. The CJC is a clinic which works on active criminal appeal cases where a small group of students give their advice on any possible grounds of appeal in the case that they are assigned. This is completed under the supervision of a practising Solicitor. The case concerns serious offences with clients serving substantial prison sentences, and due to the strict Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) rules on confidentiality, I cannot discuss any details of the case that I worked on.
Pro bono work is where legal professionals give their time to clients with no cost or fee included. This has become more prevalent after the drastic cuts to legal aid since 2012. At the start, I felt “a drive to help my client” (Extract 1) and discussed that I needed to learn “how to balance my time to ensure that my client gets my full concentration” (Extract 2). I never appreciated how much effort and time goes into pro bono work before actively participating in it myself. This is highlighted when reflecting on the amount of time that I actively participated in the clinic. The team that I was part of conducted small group meetings, reading, research, drafting, and collaborating. I now believe that it is not fair on a pro bono client to receive an unprofessional, uninterested service when this may be their last chance to appeal, and this conduct would not satisfy the standards required from the SRA (2019).
I always believed that pro bono work was important for helping vulnerable individuals in society achieve access to justice, but now after being part of the clinic, I realise that it goes much deeper than that. My understanding of pro bono work has developed to truly believe that it is linked to social justice and professional identity, and this is why it is highly regarded by employers and other individuals within the legal profession. Pro bono work is regarded so highly because it should be treated with the same care and attention as paying clients. Arguably, it requires more attention as the individuals who rely upon pro bono work are there for a more drastic reason than just not wanting to pay for legal advice. Additionally, pro bono work benefits the individual participating in it as “the clinic is not just pro bono work, it’s also collaborating with people from all walks of life. It’s developing your skills as well as helping others” (Extract 3).
I have realised during my participation with the CJC that it takes a certain individual to participate in pro bono work effectively. For example, I acted with professionalism, treated the work as if it was paid work within a legal Firm, collaborated with my team effectively, and put all my efforts into the client’s case. This is known as the professional identity of the individual. This desired conduct will help more people in society achieve effective access to justice, which in turn improves social justice and will give society a stronger trust in legal professionals as they are giving up their free time to help others contrary to the misconception that all legal professions are in it for the money. My participation in the CJC has made me feel “more worthy of my master’s offers for next year” (Extract 4) as I know I have helped at least one individual through the CJC, and I wish to continue undertaking pro bono work within my legal career.
Butler, A. (2023) ‘Extract 1’, originally written 13th January 2023
Butler, A. (2023) ‘Extract 2’, originally written 13th January 2023
Butler, A. (2023) ‘Extract 3’, originally written 12th April 2023
Butler, A. (2023) ‘Extract 4’, originally written 9th March 2023
Solicitors Regulation Authority (2019) SRA Code of Conduct 2019 [Online]. Available at https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/standards-regulations/code-conduct-solicitors/ (Accessed 15 April 2023).
Angharad has recently finished studying our pro bono module 'Justice in Action'.