WHO ARE THE PEOPLE ENTITLED TO PRO BONO SERVICE
Pro bono in legal practice means, lawyers voluntarily contributing part of their time without charge or at a substantially reduced rate, to establish or preserve the rights of disadvantaged individuals and to provide legal services to assist Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) who represent the interest of or who work on behalf of the less privileged members of the society or other public interest organizations.
It involves the use of specific professional skills by lawyers to provide services to those who are unable to afford them and this distinguishes it from ordinary volunteer work. Lawyers consider pro bono to be a valuable way to give back to the society and to help further the cause of justice.
Pro bono work may come in different forms:
· Preparation of Legal Information
· Summaries of Legislation
· Legal Research
· Representations or
One of the fundamental differences between a profession and other vocations is that professions are encumbered with ethical obligations. For the legal profession, it has the obligation of facilitating the operation of the Rule of Law of which access to justice is a key component. Every lawyer has a professional responsibility and duty to provide legal services to those unable to pay.
A lawyer is expected to provide free legal services to:
· Indigent persons – persons of limited means
· charitable, religious, civic, educational organizations – organizations that are involved in social causes.
There is also an obligation on lawyers to make financial contributions to support organizations that provide free legal services to indigent persons.
PRO BONO IN NIGERIA:
The concept of pro bono is not new to Nigerian legal practice but it still remains at its infancy because of a number of factors ranging from lawyers’ unwillingness to do pro bono work to lack of a statutory framework making it mandatory for all lawyers to set aside a number of hours each year for pro bono work.
According to the Nigerian Legal Aid Council, only 15% of Nigerian lawyers do pro bono work. Apart from law clinics offered by various NBA Branches during their Annual Law Week programs, only a few Law firms have designated desks that handle pro bono cases.
From the above background, it becomes even more imperative that as lawyers, we must meet up with our professional responsibility of giving free legal services to the indigent.
We must give something back to the society which forms part of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – especially for a Law firm but it goes beyond CSR, which only comes with a moral obligation. There is an ethical and professional burden on Lawyers, which can only be discharged by doing pro bono work.
As we are taking something from the public we must also give back to it. They are mutually exclusive and compliment each other.
The mindset of a trader is only to make gains but as professionals while making gains, we must also deliver part of our services free to deserving members of the public. This creates access to justice which is one of the components of the Rule of Law. There cannot be Rule of Law without the championing of pro bono.
ADVANTAGES OF ENGAGING IN PRO BONO
For any Law firm that is engaged in pro bono services, it comes with immense benefits –
· A positive image and a very good reputation in the general public and within the legal and pro bono communities.
· It will be an inexpensive and efficient way of professionally developing its lawyers thus becoming a win-win for it. As the firm is providing free legal services to the indigent, lawyers in the firm will also get a hands-on experience on a variety of significant legal matters.
FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED BEFORE ENGAGING IN PRO BONO
In an increasingly competitive legal market, lawyers and Law firms are under great time demands to provide their paying clients with the best, fastest and most reliable legal services possible..
As a result, to help meet the needs of the poor, lawyers and Law firms must sacrifice a portion of time they would have spent on billable matters or attend to the normal demands of life such as family, friends and self.
Thus, before engaging in pro bono services, a lawyer/Law firm should reconcile the competing time demands of running a law practice and engaging in a successful pro bono project because pro bono work requires sacrifice, dedication, time and money.
1. CONFLICT OF INTEREST(S):
While taking on pro bono matters, a lawyer/Law firm must ensure that a pro bono case would not present a conflict with work being done for paying clients.
It is good to identify if a case is pro bono before work begins on a matter rather than taking up a case and a client says he cannot pay. It doesn’t look tidy and it’s not good for business.
Cases should be properly classified. The same level of dedication, professionalism and diligence must be applied to both paying and non-paying clients. Both should be given equal status to ensure that no conflict of interest(s) arises. It is the best practice to track and handle a pro bono case in the same way you would any other case.
2. COST AND TIME:
The truth about cost is that, for a lawyer or a Law firm that wants to do pro bono, there is no tailored guide to follow. It is totally at the discretion of the individual lawyer and the Law firm to set out what it will cost them to do pro bono based on the resources available. There must be appropriate budgeting and the realistic setting of funding expectations is essential because pro bono is expensive. This is where the great sacrifice expected from the legal profession comes in. For a firm or lawyer that wants to do pro bono you must first of all see pro bono as a charitable work of which there is a high expectation of performance and delivery. If it is looked at in terms of “Naira” and “Kobo” then no lawyer will do pro bono since they have the option of not doing it free. The focus should be on the need to serve humanity with our special skill. A certain percentage of a lawyer’s earnings is expected to be given back to society in the form of free donation of legal services.
This aspect of pro bono is what has made it unattractive to most lawyers in Nigeria. Most Law firms in Nigeria are small and they struggle to stay in business. So it becomes almost impossible for them to take on pro bono cases. The argument among most lawyers is that it will be difficult for them to sacrifice the time they would have used to work for their needs to do pro bono. The general consensus is that, most lawyers cannot sustain pro bono work with their lean resources. Therefore, before taking on pro bono cases, a lawyer/Law firm should plan it in such a way that they will “bite the much they can chew” especially when it comes to in-house pro bono clients that is, clients other than those assigned or “allocated” to a firm or a lawyer by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria. That way, a balance can be maintained between cost and free legal services.
The time expended on pro bono matters should not be more than what would have been spent ordinarily in doing a matter for a paying client. For lawyers or Law firms using the Hourly Billing System, there may be a challenge of knowing the number of the Annual Billable Hours to allocate to pro bono. This is because the Hourly Billing System is alien to Nigeria. The usual practice is the Lump Sum Billing which was inherited from Britain.
In conclusion, the beauty of time with regard to pro bono in Nigeria is that unlike in certain jurisdictions there is no mandatory number of hours given to a lawyer to do pro bono. The Nigerian Bar Association NBA in its Pro Bono Declaration of 1st January, 2009 tried to provide a guide by stating that lawyers should devote at least 20 hours per annum to do pro bono but this is not mandatory. Lawyers in Nigeria have a wide latitude of discretion to choose how much of their time they will sacrifice for pro bono work. This makes it easy for them to plan and strategize on how to match pro bono work with the resources and time available to them. Lawyers in Nigeria have a wide latitude of discretion to choose how much of their time they will sacrifice for pro bono work. This makes it easy for them to plan and strategize on how to match pro bono work with the resources and time available to them.
WRITTEN BY: CHAMAN LAW FIRM TEAM
TEL: 08065553671, 08024230080