The Pro Bono Pledge is an initiative of the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) and FLAC.
James Cahill said that doing legal work for those with legal needs but no capacity to pay is part of the culture and tradition of the legal profession in Ireland.
“Every solicitor, in the course of their career, has and will continue to find themselves doing work for which they will not be paid, because the client cannot afford to pay,” he said.
This unpaid, but necessary legal work, represents an important contribution by solicitors to the common good, to the preservation of access to justice and to the administration of justice, he said.
He added that the Law Society actively promotes this culture as a core value of the profession.
“I suspect the true volume and impact of unpaid work by lawyers is immeasurable in either hours or outcomes for clients,” he continued.
The Law Society President said that in supporting this voluntary initiative, the profession affirms its commitment to developing this tradition into the future, in collaboration with PILA, FLAC and colleagues at the Bar.
He said that the pledge will also provide a framework for legal professionals who seek an outlet for their corporate social responsibility goals.
Law Society members in the most recent financial year voluntarily contributed €350,000 to FLAC and €180,000 to Community Law Centres.
However, James Cahill said that it is a matter of enormous regret that successive Governments, over a great many years, have failed to adequately fund access to justice through either the criminal or civil legal aid systems in Ireland.
Filling the gap
“It goes without saying that solicitors working for free does not and will never come close to filling the gap for people who need legal advice and services but cannot afford them,” he said.
“The Law Society takes this opportunity to urge the Minister for Justice and Equality to make it one of the hallmarks of her time in office that the Government funding deficits of both criminal and civil legal aid are urgently addressed,” he said.
It is also, unfortunately, true that many solicitors simply cannot afford to work on a pro bono basis, as they, like many others, face uncertain and challenging times, he concluded.