Information for Advocates
Pro bono legal work has always been an integral element of membership of the Faculty of Advocates, as part of its work in providing access to justice and meeting otherwise unmet legal need. As part of that commitment, the Faculty of Advocates' Free Legal Services Unit ("the Unit") was set up in 2003, and given the task of devising a scheme for the provision of free legal advice and representation in deserving cases for those who cannot afford the legal help they need, and who cannot obtain assistance from any other source, and also for the provision of advocacy skills training to representatives of the advice agencies in the legal sector. The Faculty has also provided a number of training courses for advice agency representatives.
The Unit has decided that the most effective means of providing free legal advice and representation is the acceptance by it of appropriate referrals from advice agencies accredited by the Unit. The advice and/or representation will be provided by volunteer advocates.
In the first instance, the advice agency will be required to assess each application in order to determine whether it is an appropriate referral for the Unit. In doing so, it will have regard to the following criteria: an assessment of the legal merits of the case; whether the applicant (or his/her family) can afford legal assistance; whether the services of an advocate are needed; and whether the work involved will take more than three days.
Once a referral is made to the Unit, a second sift will be carried out in order to determine whether it should be accepted by the Unit. This assessment will be carried out by members of Faculty who have volunteered to join the Unit's panel of reviewers. In carrying out that assessment the reviewer will be asked to confirm whether the referral should be accepted.
It is hoped that members with expertise and relevant experience particularly in the field of welfare law will volunteer to become reviewers. The criteria to be applied by the reviewer in determining whether the referral should be accepted will be broadly similar to those applied by the advice agency. The advice agencies and their clients will be put fully on notice of the three-day maximum.
The Unit will do its best to make a realistic assessment of the work involved before offering a case to a volunteer advocate. Members will require to form their own view about this before accepting a case. No doubt occasionally a hearing will exceed its estimate or the advisory work required is unexpectedly complex. Volunteer advocates will have to be flexible in such circumstances.
The advantage of the proposed scheme is that it allows the Faculty to remain an independent referral bar, albeit the referral is by an advice agency rather than a solicitor.
Members of Faculty are not obliged to accept any case offered, but where you do take on a pro bono case from the Unit, you must treat it like any other piece of work. The services of a particular advocate cannot be requested. Once a case is accepted the advice agency representative will deal with you direct and the Unit will cease to be actively involved unless there are unexpected difficulties.
The Faculty's Professional Indemnity Insurers have confirmed that work accepted through the Unit is covered by your basic policy.
The scheme requires willingness and a commitment from all members of Faculty to be involved.
If you are interested in becoming either a volunteer or a reviewer or both please email us at FLSU@advocates.org.uk.