The Law Society’s Richard Miller on why it reached out to the legal community following the terrorist attacks in London
The Law Society issued a rallying call to the legal profession to help victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London by giving pro bono advice. How did that come about?
After the Manchester terror attack, the Manchester Law Society immediately appealed to solicitors to volunteer to provide free legal advice to victims of the attack and their families. Sadly in recent months with the terror attacks in London, there are now many bereaved and injured people here too who are in need of legal advice and so we, too, with LawWorks, have set up a pro bono panel for victims of terror attacks.
What was the response like from firms?
The response from lawyers and firms has been completely overwhelming, with offers flooding in to offer support for the bereaved and injured from the three London attacks - in Westminster, London Bridge and by Finsbury Park Mosque.
What kind of firms responded and how many offered their services?
A wide range of firms has come forward. There are some issues that are likely to be more prevalent among those who have been bereaved or injured, so the experience and expertise of some firms will be particularly relevant, such as those who have experience of advising on family matters, catastrophic injuries, wills and probate.
Was it just law firms or did the wider legal community offer their services too?
Lawyers at all stages of their careers - from students to partner level - and from all branches of the profession - solicitors, barristers and legal executives - have come forward to offer pro bono advice to people who have been bereaved or injured in the recent terror attacks.
The London panel is open to firms only, as this increases our ability to ensure consistent quality of service to victims as well as providing a straightforward professional indemnity cover for all providers on the panel.
Individuals who wish to be on the panel can encourage their firm to sign up or they may be able to offer pro bono advice to those who most need it through a Law Centre or LawWorks
What were the biggest motivators of those taking part?
That's something we have not asked but we believe that firms are offering their professional expertise for free for the public good. There is no commercial gain to be had from being on the panel. We are not publicising names of firms that join.
Law firms on the panel are asked to sign up to the joint pro bono protocol to ensure consistently high standards of pro bono work. Among other things, this commits firms to:
• Pro bono legal work that is free to the client, without payment to the solicitor or law firm (regardless of the outcome) and provided voluntarily either by the solicitor or his or her firm.
• Give that work the same priority, attention and care as would apply to paid work.
• Pro bono legal work always done to a high standard by a lawyer with no less than the minimum level of legal expertise and experience as would be required if the work were paid work.
What are the main areas of legal advice that are being provided?
The work of the panel is entirely confidential. All legal work undertaken is protected by client confidentiality rules that govern the legal profession.
If a client has been physically or mentally injured or has concerns about their/others property, long-term healthcare arrangements, financial obligations/debt, benefits, insurance, family matters or any other legal queries, we aim to secure free legal advice for them through the panel.
How is the scheme now being administered?
LawWorks, the Solicitors pro bono charity, is administering the panel. Access to the panel is on a referral basis only through a helpline that is provided for the Legal Aid Agency by Capita. Referral agencies such as Victim Support will put victims in touch with the panel.
How many families are being helped?
This is not information that is publicly available.
Is there still a need for firms to sign up?
We appreciate that legal issues arising from the attacks may not be immediately apparent or may emerge after some time has elapsed. Our intention is that the panel will remain open for as long as it is needed. London-based firms that wish to sign up to the panel are welcome to do so.
Finally, what do you think the response says about the UK’s legal community?
The suffering of the victims of the recent terror attacks touches us all and it's clear from the response of the legal community that lawyers are no different to everyone else - we all want to do what we can to help.