THE Government’s chief legal adviser has backed a ‘ground-breaking’ scheme in Sheffield in which law firms and university students are providing free legal advice.
Dominic Grieve QC, the Attorney General, visited Sheffield as part of events during National Pro Bono Week, which promotes schemes offering legal help at no cost.
Sheffield Law Society says almost all legal firms carry out pro bono work as well as paid-for cases, worth millions of pounds each year.
But the work of Hallam and Sheffield universities has caught the eye of Mr Grieve, who met lawyers and students at Sheffield Hallam University.
He said: “Sheffield’s two universities seem to have developed a very specific model of pro bono work, integrated with solicitors’ firms, which is quite distinctive and pioneering.
“Hopefully, similar schemes will be set up in other areas of the country.”
Mr Grieve said pro bono work was becoming more important than ever because of straightened Government finances putting pressure on the legal aid budget.
He said: “The UK is the world leader in terms of providing free access to justice and at present the equivalent of £29 per head of population is spent on legal aid each year.
“The next closes country is New Zealand, where the legal aid budget is £17 per head.
“Legal aid can’t escape scrutiny at a time when we have a serious economic crisis. We have to look at different ways of resolving disputes out of court and pro bono legal work is also going to have a major role.”
Mr Grieve outlined the importance of law firms providing free legal help, as part of their ‘social responsibilities’, in a presentation at Hallam University to students, law firms and civic dignitaries including Lord Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, David Moody.
Anna Rudkin, president of Sheffield Law Society and senior law lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “We’re delighted with the Attorney General’s praise for the universities’ pro bono scheme.
“Both universities have legal advice centres providing pro bono help.
“The one at Sheffield Hallam is a fully-registered solicitors’ practice.
“Across Sheffield, most firms are involved in pro bono work, ranging from small practices to the big international firms. It is worth millions of pounds each year.”