Interested in pro bono, read this…

The late, great Gore Vidal is famous for saying (amongst other things) ‘Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.’

Human beings have a fascination for statistics, both real and fictional, which is why, I suppose, witticisms such as Vidal’s so easily resonate and amuse.  Most daily news bulletins include at least one item on a recent survey from the banal to the ridiculous. Some are evidence of important trends, some give statistics for the blindingly obvious, some indicate that the human race is not as evolved as we like to think, others suggest that the human race carries out too many surveys.

  • A survey released in 2010 suggested that 70% of recruiters have rejected applicants based on information they found online.
  • A survey of 16,500 individuals by the Guardian found that clear majority rejected the label of ‘British’, choosing overwhelmingly instead to identify themselves with their home nation.  6,594 who said they were British, 2,874 said they were Scottish, 2,386 chose English, 1,355 Welsh, 895 Irish, with only 129 choosing Northern Irish.
  • In 2011, 39% of Asian Britons, 34% of white Britons and 21% of black Britons wanted all immigration into the UK to be stopped permanently, or at least until the economy improved
  • More people use blue toothbrushes than red ones.
  • According to a 1995 survey, seven out of 10 British dogs get Christmas gifts from their doting owners.
  • A recent survey of more than 30,000 people in 15 countries concluded that Germany is the least funny country in the world.  Russia was second, Turkey third and (not much room for national relief here) Britain fourth.

You know how it is, you leave the office, tired after a long day fighting the good fight and the only thing in focus is a plate of spaghetti bolognaise with your family.  And perhaps a DVD with some popcorn (or fresh fruit, depending on how healthy your eating habits are). And all that lies between you and the spaghetti turns out to be a whole team of eager youths in red T-shirts on High Holborn, conducting a survey for Cancer Relief, and they step in front of you with an inviting smile on their faces, and the sentence ‘Can I just take five minutes of your time?’ dies as you smile back, point at your headphones, shake your head in faux reluctance and go your merry way.

How on earth do surveys collect data? If a survey suggests that more people use blue toothbrushes than red ones, does that mean two liked blue and one liked red, and if seven out of ten dogs get Christmas presents, does that mean that only ten families (rather than dogs) were prepared to answer the question?

My experience of conducting surveys suggests that this may well be the case. As a nation, we love reading the results but we might not necessarily love giving the time. This blog is a thinly disguised plea for you to make an exception, this time round.

Here are some more stats for you:

  • Three years ago, 26% of law firms surveyed saw the type of casework as being very significant in terms of criteria for engagement in pro bono work.
  • Three years ago, 18% of law firms surveyed saw increased long term project involvement as a very significant factor in increasing pro bono levels.

That data was collected in 2009 by a survey by LawWorks of member firms  However, life has moved on in the last three years. Whatever happens to social welfare law and access to justice in April 2013 and the years to come, we know that pro bono cannot fill the gap. However, that does not mean that pro bono should not do as much as it reasonably can. A valuable and precious resource, the impact it can have will be directly proportionate to how much we understand it and how much we can work together to identify the best collaborative working strategies going forward.  And all of this leads me to why you should answer the LawWorks 2012 survey.

You don’t have to be a LawWorks member.  You just need to be able to respond on behalf of a law firm or an in-house legal team and you need to have a few minutes free before Friday (October 5th) to access this link, and help provide the underpinning data that we need.   It’s not so much about which colour toothbrush you use but questions such as:

  • If your practice caps the pro bono hours included in chargeable hours and/or bonus, what is the maximum number?
  • If your firms frequent turns down requests for pro bono work, from where do these requests come?
  • What areas of pro bono work are your fee earners most interested in supporting?

It will make the spaghetti bolognaise and popcorn taste that much better.

Thank you so much.


About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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