Monday, 27 May 2013

Being a City lawyer: Pro Bono

Here’s the thing, kid. Corporate lawyers aren’t into charity work. Or at least, they aren’t as part of their day-to-day. Some of them are excellent people who do marvellous charitable things, but it can’t be allowed to get in the way of the job.

I’ve been to a couple of graduate recruitment events, and students ask about the extent of pro bono work at my firm. Truthfully, if you want to be helping people with landlord disputes, benefits and immigration issues, don’t come to the City.

City firms often have a pro bono commitment. You can do a set number of hours on business time of pro bono work, take days off to do charitable things, give ad hoc advice at drop-in legal clinics. The theory behind this is a bit odd, I think. It is supposed to show clients that the firm is committed to doing good deeds, and this is supposed to make clients want to use the firm. Frankly, everyone knows that both the firm and the client exist to make money, and therefore, to my mind, the idea of impressing clients with these efforts is backward. If a firm spends firm time on charity, it basically needs to charge more to cover those costs (or, certainly, it will make sure any pro bono work achieves a net positive financial result). The client is then (in theory) paying more so that the firm can spend it (given time = money) on someone else. Cut out the middleman, chaps. Let the clients give direct.

The problem too is that City firms aren’t really cut out to give the pro bono advice that is most needed. Commercial property lawyers don’t know about residential tenancy rules. Those who advise on complex international construction disputes aren’t really your first choice consumer litigation advisers. Maybe they’d be better providing services (books, facilities, trainee resource) to those lawyers who can do those things.

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