House of Lords hosts pro bono awards

The joint Solicitors Pro Bono Group Student Challenge Awards & Attorney Generals Institution Awards, run in association with Lawyer 2B, were held at the House of Lords on 24 September.

The awards, judged by a panel comprising Cherie Booth QC, Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP, Michael Mansfield QC, Rt Hon Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and Matheu Swallow, editor of Lawyer 2B and deputy editor of The Lawyer, were presented to student Stephen Bartlet-Jones for his work for Toynbee Hall Free Legal Advice Centre and the College of Law for its pro bono schemes.

Bartlet-Jones was credited with having contributed a vast amount of work for Toynbee Hall during the past two years, and for being involved in setting up the Noor Bengali Womens Advice Session. Impressively, his commitment to this project meant he learned three languages, Bengali, some Hindu and Urdu in order to better communicate with clients. Bartlet-Jones has also taken referral cases from legal charities and volunteered for several human rights groups.

The College of Law was awarded the Institution Award owing to its commitment to pro bono initiatives at all of its five centres. During 2003-04, the college ran more than 35 projects involving more than 2,000 students, and in the space of four years the college has become the largest pro bono provider of all legal education institutions. The college is integral in instilling in students the concept that pro bono should continue to be a feature throughout their legal careers.

The awards took place just as a nationwide survey emerged highlighting a damning lack of pro bono policies at some law firms. The survey, led by a steering group involving the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG), representatives from the College of Law, the Manchester School of Law and BPP Law School, was originally sent out to 300 firms in the UK. However, of those 300, only 40 firms eventually took part with half the respondents hailing from US practices.

The results point to wildly varying approaches to pro bono among the firms and a definite UK/US cultural divide. Only half of the firms surveyed have signed up to the SPBG-led Joint Protocol for Pro Bono Legal Work, which acts as a code of good practice. Sue Bucknall, chief executive of the SPBG, says the importance of the protocol goes to sustaining a long-term approach to pro bono work.