"Pro Bono Connect was born out of my personal experiences as a barrister doing pro bono work. Some years ago, I took on number of pro bono cases through Advocate (then known as the Bar Pro Bono Unit. Two of those cases started as small commitments but turned into very large ones. Whilst they were very rewarding, I was performing both the barrister and solicitor role, which was time consuming and involved me carrying out tasks I don’t usually perform, so it took twice as long as my normal work. In one case, I found solicitor help through a personal contact, which made the work much more manageable. In the other, I could not.

For a year afterwards, I am ashamed to say that I was wary about taking on pro bono cases, at least for anything other than very small matters, given the time commitment required. I joined A4ID who matched me on a case with a firm of solicitors. It was so much better. I thought, ‘why can’t we do this for pro bono litigation generally?’ It occurred to me that if there was an established network and system to enable barristers to find solicitors, and vice versa, then it would make pro bono cases easier and more effective so more people would want to get involved.

I carried out a survey to see whether there would be greater interest in doing pro bono work as part of a team with solicitors. The response was a resounding yes! Contacts told me that the idea of getting help with legal research, drafting pleadings and advocacy (at least at higher levels) was very attractive. It is also a good way to give younger lawyers litigation experience. I was interested to learn that many law firms (unlike chambers) have pro bono hours targets, which aren’t always easy to meet.

With the help of the Advocate and fellow barristers (Eleanor Campbell and Andrew Lodder in particular) and clerks (Jackie and Adam) at One Essex Court, we set up Pro Bono Connect in September 2015. Initially, this was as a pilot scheme with five firms and chambers who were our personal contacts. We launched officially in November 2016 during National Pro Bono Week.

I am delighted to say that Pro Bono Connect is growing well. There are now 45 participating firms and 48 chambers, with some individual members too. That includes a great many city law firms like Linklaters, Allen & Overy, Slaughter & May, Herbert Smith, Debevoise, Arnold & Porter, Eversheds, Addleshaw Goddard, Hogan Lovells, Skadden, Baker & Mckenzie, Travers Smith, Brown Rudnick, Weil Gotshal and White & Case (to name just a few).

Overall, we have matched 135 cases with barrister and solicitors through the scheme. These cases cover chancery, property, company, common law, tax, civil fraud, public law, contract, human rights, insolvency and employment law in pro bono cases.  There’s a particular need for pro bono in employment, family and immigration and we would love to be able to provide assistance for those cases in the future as more lawyers join the scheme.

I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far but can’t wait to see the scheme grow. If every barrister can dedicate 25 hours a year to pro bono work through Advocate’s 25for25 Pro Bono Challenge, it will really help.

We have always worked very closely with Advocate and continue to do so. Since 2020, the governance of the scheme has been taken over by LawWorks, which is helping us to move to next stage. We want to expand geographically and into other areas of law and get more lawyers involved.

At present, almost all barrister cases come from Advocate, which means that they are cases for individuals, and that they have been means-tested. Solicitor cases come from any number of sources including NGOs, charities, community groups or corporate bodies.

There is no requirement to accept a request, only to consider doing so, and a request can be accepted in whole or part. It is flexible. If a request is accepted, the solicitor and barrister work on the pro bono case as a team in exactly the same way as for paid litigation.

Whenever I speak to barristers who have worked on cases through the scheme, they tell me what great benefits it brings. It makes it much easier to run pro bono cases alongside your normal practice and you can get exposure to new firms and new work. Solicitors can get specialist advice from counsel and get younger layers involved in detailed work.

It’s good for your practice, it’s good for your soul and it’s good for society!"

To find out more information and sign-up, visit www.probonoconnect.co.uk or contact admin@probonoconnect.co.uk.

My favourite case is of an elderly Afghan lady who had her life savings taken by a shop keeper who promised to look after them, gave her no paperwork, and then denied he held her money. We got involved at the stage where the lady’s claim was facing strike-out. We matched the barrister (Adam Kramer, 3VB) with Morrison Foerster LLP. The firm put in over 500 pro bono hours. With Adam, they not only won the strike-out, they continued to and won the main trial. They also got the largest ever pro bono costs order, which (if enforced) will mean that the pro bono sector as a whole, benefits.