In the legal industry, pro bono is the act of giving free legal advice to clients who may not otherwise be able to afford it.
In the US, it’s long been common practice for law firms to practice pro bono alongside their paid legal work. In recent years pro bono has started to enjoy more prominence in UK law firms too.
When researching firms, it’s definitely worth looking at a firm’s pro bono offering. Some firms will require all trainees to get involved in pro bono and others will even allow lawyers to include a certain amount of pro bono work within their billable hours. A commitment to pro bono can say a lot about a law firm’s ethos.
But it’s important to remember that pro bono work will almost always come second to your billable work for fee-paying clients. So, while there’s nothing wrong with mentioning your interest in the firm’s pro bono work on your application form or at an interview, it shouldn’t be your main motivation for applying. Law firms are businesses after all!
Each year we ask trainee solicitors to share their opinions on their firms’ pro bono offering. Below are some of the top responses this year. Click on a firm name to find out more.
‘The only target hours relate to pro bono work and there are regular emails offering opportunities: the whole firm is geared towards taking on pro bono work when things are quiet / you have capacity, without it being a distraction from other work if you are busy on client matters’ – Weil
‘Pro bono is heavily encouraged by the firm and there are so many projects to get involved with, so you can be sure you’ll find something that you’re passionate about. Even if there isn’t anything (unlikely!), the firm encourages all lawyers (as well as trainees) to form their own partnerships with organisations’ – Akin
‘The firm is absolutely outstanding in terms of the availability of pro bono and CSR opportunities. There is an entire Responsible Business team which assists you to take part in any opportunity you wish to volunteer for. Sarah Farrelly, the Pro Bono Associate, is absolutely brilliant and she does exclusively pro bono work. If you are passionate about being involved in pro bono work during your TC I would strongly encourage CRS to be at the forefront of your mind’ Charles Russell Speechlys
The pro bono work is amazing and, because we have no chargeable hour targets, its not seen as extra work but is treated as important as client work, which I gather is not the case in other firms. As a junior, you also get a lot of responsibility in running with pro-bono work which is great experience – Travers Smith
‘Very good, we get involved with the Suffolk Law Centre for pro bono, and always fundraising for such charities as Access to Justice, Norfolk & Waveney Mind, Walking with the Wounded, Benjamin Foundation, etc’ – Birketts
‘Amazing – the pro bono team in the firm and the advertising and accessibility to these projects is huge (with a dedicated pro bono trainee to assist in these matters)’ – Clifford Chance
‘Excellent. Trainees are automatically enrolled to do two sessions per year at the Battersea Legal Advice Clinic. Then there are additional opportunities to get involved with pro bono/CSR, and fee earners get trainees involved with any department specific pro bono work’ – K&L Gates
‘10/10 – I have been involved in some really incredible and interesting pro bono initiatives, often working in small teams directly with partners or senior associates. Pro bono is often some of the most challenging and rewarding work. A big shout-out to the firm’s dedicated pro bono counsel who are incredible’ – Morrison & Foerster
‘Incredible. This is a subject that BCLP really care about and there is plenty to get involved with if you want’ – Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner