Irish pro bono landscape
Arthur Cox, Dublin
Undertaking legal work for marginalised or vulnerable people with no means to pay is part of the culture and tradition of the legal profession in Ireland. The pro bono landscape in Ireland continues to evolve with a number of important recent developments.
In recent years, commercial law firms A&L Goodbody and Arthur Cox hired dedicated pro bono associates for the first time to lead their pro bono practices and to improve further access to justice for the most vulnerable. In addition, the Office of Government Procurement launched a revised framework agreement for legal services, requiring all law firms to commit to work towards providing up to 20 hours of pro bono legal services, for every lawyer involved in the delivery of the agreement.
Collaboration among law firms, in-house counsel and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) creates a powerful combination of skills and experience, benefitting pro bono clients and our community. Examples of pro bono projects include legal advice and representation, secondee placements, legal education, strategic litigation and staffing law centre clinics. International NGO Kids in Need of Defence (KIND) leads an access to justice project and supports lawyers through training and resources to represent unaccompanied minors entering the state as refugees in their applications for family reunification and citizenship. Another popular initiative is the Chancery Lane Project. This project brings together in-house counsel and law firms to develop climate conscious precedent clauses and model laws to help combat climate change. Arthur Cox published its first Pro Bono Impact Report in 2020 detailing the impact of these collaborations.
Covid-19 disproportionately impacts the most marginalised and vulnerable in society. The Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) phone line reports being inundated with callers seeking urgent legal advice. Furthermore PILA (the Public Interest Law Alliance, a project of FLAC) a national clearing house for pro bono requests has seen a 50 per cent increase in demand for pro bono legal services from NGO partners. Pro bono can play a vital role in addressing these needs. In response, law firms increased pro bono support by pivoting from attending legal clinics to staffing phone consultation clinics. Law firms also collaborate with clearinghouses to host interactive webinars addressing the legal challenges posed by the pandemic. These events are designed specifically to help charities, NGOs and social enterprises to better equip those on the frontlines of the crisis.
An important milestone was achieved when the Minister of State for Law Reform, James Browne, launched Pro Bono Pledge Ireland in November 2020. 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 work. It recognises the substantial and growing level of pro bono contributions by the legal profession towards meeting unmet legal need. The Pledge was developed by an independent grouping of law firms, barristers, and in-house legal teams who have come together to affirm their commitment to delivering pro bono services. Pro Bono Pledge Ireland is coordinated by PILA and is supported by the Bar of Ireland, The Law Society of Ireland and the Dublin Solicitors Bar Association. Speaking at the launch, FLAC Chairperson Peter Ward SC highlighted ‘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.’
The challenge of unmet legal needs is substantial and pro bono work alone cannot be a replacement for a properly resourced national legal aid system. FLAC reports receiving over 26,000 requests for legal information and advice annually from individuals trying to navigate the courts without legal representation and struggling with inaccessible court forms and procedures. The legal profession has welcomed plans to host the PILnet Global Forum in Dublin in 2022. This event will serve as an important opportunity to keep the spotlight on pro bono and as the pro bono sector in Ireland continues to gather momentum.
 Arthur Cox, ‘Pro Bono Impact Report’, September 2020, available at: www.arthurcox.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Pro-Bono-Report-Sept-2020-final.pdf.
 Pro Bono Pledge Ireland, available at: http://probonopledge.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Pro-Bono-Pledge-Ireland-1.pdf.
 Public Interest Law Alliance, ‘Over 70 signatories, representing in excess of 2000 legal professionals, come together to pledge free legal services for those who need it most’, 26 November 2020, available at: www.pila.ie/news-events/2020/11/26/over-70-signatories-representing-in-excess-of-2000.
 Free Legal Advice Centre, ‘26,995 received legal information/advice in 2019’ 30 September 2020, available at: www.flac.ie/news/latestnews/2020/09/30/26995-received-legal-informationadvice-in-2019.