Pro Bono Week recognises voluntary contributions made by legal profession - Isla Davie QC

Isla Davie QC is a committee member, Faculty of Advocates Free Legal Services UnitIsla Davie QC is a committee member, Faculty of Advocates Free Legal Services Unit
Isla Davie QC is a committee member, Faculty of Advocates Free Legal Services Unit
Pro Bono Week 2021 is starting today, 1 November, in the UK, and offers an opportunity to recognise and support the voluntary contributions made by the legal profession in giving free legal help to those in need.

The Faculty of Advocates has a tradition of providing help on a pro bono basis, in keeping with its commitment to promoting access to justice in Scotland. This could be due in some part to advocates being part of a collegiate body with a strong ethos of supporting other advocates, whether with legal or practical advice. It is perhaps not such a great leap to helping the wider community in a similar way where such help is needed.

The Faculty’s Free Legal Services Unit (FGLSU) was set up in 2003 to formalise how members were providing free legal advice and representation to members of the public via advice agencies. The unit enables pro bono assistance to be channelled to where it is most required.

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Requests for assistance do not come directly to the FLSU, but through referrals by accredited advice agencies. Should the FLSU Committee put a referral forward for consideration to Faculty members, advocates who volunteer their assistance can provide advice or representation - either in the form of a written opinion or verbal advice. Representation can be in any court or tribunal in Scotland, or at a mediation. ‘Devils’, the term for those who are training to become advocates, can also volunteer for appropriate cases and put their training into practice.

That was my first introduction to the FLSU. When I was devilling, I represented some applicants in employment cases. I was able to draw on helpful assistance from some of the most experienced counsel within the Faculty, who specialised in employment law, on the more complex legal aspects of the cases. Working with the Citizens Advice Bureaux, we obtained some great results. It possibly gave me a false expectation about how smoothly my advocacy practice would develop!

It is an important aspect of the FLSU’a work that all assistance provided by it is of the same high quality that would be offered if the case were funded. Faculty members are quite rightly proud of the way they conduct business and are serious about promoting access to justice. This pride and their subsequent dedication and commitment to excellence can be seen in the manner in which every pro bono referral is handled.

It is important for users of the service to know that while the advocate will not charge for services, if the opposing side obtains an award of expenses (costs) in a case, that will not be ‘free’, since that would have to be paid by the client.

Members of the FLSU Committee are always humbled by the heartening response from other Faculty members when we issue calls for advice. What we do at the FLSU is simply harness the willingness within the advocate community to do pro bono work. These cases also often involve points of law that challenge the status quo, and that is always going to appeal to those at the coal face of litigation.

While we do our utmost to respond to every request for assistance, some referrals unfortunately might not meet the required criteria. Our ability to respond is also on occasion restricted by the time advocates have available to them to pursue pro bono work.

The agencies signed up with the FLSU provide an impressive array of voluntary services to those in need of legal assistance. The majority of the cases referred rely on teamwork between agencies and advocates. In cases where additional input from a solicitor is required, we try to assist in getting solicitors involved on a pro bono basis as well. The collegiality of the profession as a whole often makes it easier for us to reach out to lawyers who may be able to assist.

This commitment to pro bono work is shared by other professionals in the legal sector - evidenced by the high level of engagement each year with Pro Bono Week. The Faculty would like to extend its appreciation to all those actively involved in volunteering time and effort to help those in need.

Isla Davie QC is a committee member, Faculty of Advocates Free Legal Services Unit