Why Pro Bono Sucks

What’s your favourite Lynx Bodyspray ?

I’ve always been partial to “Africa” – the scent of civil war and e-mail scams and “Inca” – the smell of distilled Peruvian tears. I also rather like their new fragrance “Peace” with its CND logo and the faint smell of stale tofu and marijuana.

For years Lynx have dominated the market for deodorants with ridiculous names but a rival has now emerged. Sure for Men have launched a new range of roll-on deodorant called Quantum. That’s latin for amount. If improving the nation’s personal hygiene is your thing then “quantum” is much sexier than “amount”. Amount of Solace would have been a rubbish name for a film, not a patch on Quantum of Solace which was just a rubbish film and I very much doubt that a TV show called Amount Leap would have become a cult sci-fi classic.

Personal injury lawyers like to talk a lot about the quantum of a claim. It makes us feel clever, as if what we’re doing is really complicated like quantum mechanics or quantum physics. Many lawyers are guilty of chucking in a bit of latin to give the impression they know what they’re taking about. Winging it is so much easier if you throw in a “per se’ now and again, or a cheeky “vis a vis “, or why not really wow them with an “inter alia”. Go for it chaps. Everyone knows that, de facto, the ladies love a bit of latino.

Top of my list of overused latin phrases for lawyers is “pro bono”. It’s got nothing to do with the tiny, balding Irish singer with U2, although I have become a little more pro Bono after he stopped clicking his fingers and killing African children, it’s work for the public good. Lawyers doing stuff for nothing because they’re such nice people.

Pro bono work has been in the news after a leading think tank, ResPublica, called on “self-serving” lawyers to undertake a minimum pro bono commitment of 10% of all work done to help tackle the crisis in public confidence in the legal profession.

Now lots of solicitors do work for nothing. I’m a personal injury lawyer who acts on a “no win, no fee” basis. There are some cases we don’t win – not many I would hope – but in those claims I’m acting pro bono. Many larger firms do a lot of unpaid work benefitting the poorest in society. I doubt there’s a profession that does more “free” work for the public good than us lawyers.To expect us to do more unpaid work to improve our standing with the public is outrageous. Are used car salesmen expected to give away a few motors to improve their tarnished image ? Do we demand that estate agents sell houses for free because nobody likes them? Why is it only lawyers who are expected to increase the amount of work they do for nothing?

I don’t actually believe there is a crisis in confidence in the legal profession. There is, however, an increasing lack of confidence in the legal system. The Ministry of Justice now expects our over burdened courts and judiciary to do more with an ever decreasing budget and is surprised when backlogs and delays result. Drastic cuts in legal aid have left many without proper legal representation and have clogged up the court system with litigants in person. Court fees have shot up while the service provided by the court system has declined. The public have lost confidence that the cash-strapped CPS are prosecuting the right people and doing right by the victims of crime. I’m only scratching the surface.

If you want a proper system of justice you’re going to have to pay for it. You can’t plug the funding gaps by expecting lawyers to do the work for nothing. More pro bono is a con and the think tank’s conclusions are just a weak attempt at emotional blackmail of the legal profession. If you don’t want individuals to pay for legal services then tax people more and let the exchequer foot the bill. To paraphrase the American colonists -No proper legal representation without taxation.

By the way if you want a copy of ResPublica’s report it will cost you £19.95. If they won’t work for nothing then why should I ?

6 thoughts on “Why Pro Bono Sucks”

  1. If lawyers are going to provide a service for free I would imagine the overall quality of pro bono work wouldn’t be too great….working for free is tough motivation…its reserved for the saints of this world.

  2. Anthony, Good to see you back and firing on all cylinders, or barrels. I think it’s all a question of perceptions. Big advertising agencies do pro-bono work for charities only so that they can give full reign to their creative ‘abilities’, the lovely cuddly side of capitalism if you like and I’m sure big/large law firms do the same. Can they lay free, uncharged time against tax? After all there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

    I had a Creative Director boss when I worked in advertising who said it was like pissing down your trouser leg, a lovely and warm for a short while.

    If some politician is getting his knickers in a twist why don’t they do the work for ‘nowt’ or get plumbers, builders, bricklayers and electricians to do the same because the principle is the same. Certainly the people telling you to do it aren’t the most virtuous in society. I bet those in the oxymoron ‘think tank’ worked for free too. Sorry on soap box.

    Meanwhile good to see you back and UTB.

    All the best,


    Ps why should anybody feel duty bound to work for nothing?

  3. Thanks John

    It’s good to be back.

    A lot of the big firms can afford to do work for nothing but it creates an expectation that we all should. It also gives the impression that lawyers are so wealthy they can do work for nothing, my colleague has just spat out a mouthful of Dom Perignon at the very suggestion.

    Great to have the football back – hoping my few quid on Boro at 12-1 bears fruit.

    1. I wonder if Redcar Red has had a flutter this year.

      I do fear Derby if they start well – they’ve made their signings early. I worry that 10 games in we’ll be playing catch up.

      Cheers John

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