The first ever National Pro Bono Centre has opened for business today (19 October), with dedicated offices in Chancery Lane.
The initiative brings together the Bar Pro Bono Unit, LawWorks and the ILEX Pro Bono Forum. The three charities plan to work with other organisations – such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, law centres and frontline agencies across England and Wales – in a bid to provide “a more joined-up service to members of the public and to community groups in need of legal help but who cannot access legal aid and who cannot afford to pay legal fees”.
The service – which, the groups emphasised, is not a replacement for legal aid – will provide individuals with access to legal services such as housing law, employment law, family law and immigration law. Community groups and small charities will also be able to receive advice on areas such as business law.
The Chancery Lane premises include ‘hot desk’ facilities to allow the development of new initiatives.
Speaking on behalf of the three charities, Robin Knowles CBE QC, the chairman of the Bar Pro Bono Unit, said: “We are absolutely delighted, after much hard teamwork and dedication, especially by our staff, to launch the centre. It represents a further step change in the public service offered by all three branches of the legal profession, working together.
“We have been saying for many years that pro bono is part of being a lawyer, and the establishment of the National Pro Bono Centre both helps demonstrate that and will further enable it.”
The centre has been backed by the Bar Council, the Law Society and ILEX, and has received sponsorship from a range of sources, including FTI Consulting, Linklaters and Slaughter & May, to get off the ground.
“But every single contribution, large and small, from law firms, barristers’ chambers, companies and individuals has made an enormous difference,” Knowles said.
“Bringing the pro bono community together in this important, new and exciting way will make a further positive difference to many people’s lives, and in turn to society. I am proud of the profession’s readiness to make this happen.”