Pro Bono Work – Duty or Obligation?
Monday, 5th March 2001 at 12:03 pm
University of NSW Law Students who took part in the Practicing in the Public Interest Course last year were required to produce a research essay for critical analysis. Fourth year student Deborah Potter’s essay titled “Should pro bono be a compulsory component of private law practice?” was chosen as best article.
Potter argues that a distinction needs to be made between acknowledging the ethical responsibility of lawyers to perform pro bono work and asserting that the fulfillment of the responsibility be made mandatory.
She says lawyers are in unique position to protect the defenceless, and lawyers have a duty to the law. Given the wider benefits to the community that would result from improving access to the legal system, it can be argued that the burden placed on lawyers is easily justified.
Potter goes on to argue that there are concerns that a compulsory pro bono scheme would require lawyers to perform work in areas where they are not experienced or qualified in.
She says that in a system where pro bono service is mandatory, the risk of inexperienced litigator being required to accept, or even simply feeling pressured to take on cases which they cannot cope with, would inevitably be increased.
As well she argues that the introduction of compulsory pro bono for private practitioners would reduce the expectation for the state to provide adequate levels of legal aid.
She says it would create a structure which would enable, and a culture which would allow the gradual reduction of government funding to legal aid. In the event of its introduction, the legal profession would need to be continually alert to this danger.
Potter, in conclusion, cautions against an across-the-board mandatory scheme, citing market realities, inappropriate experience, resource capacity and quality standards as factors requiring careful consideration.
Deborah Potter’s essay was supplied to Pro Bono Australia by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and a complete copy can be obtained via e-mail to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.