lammy lawyer pro bono plan

Lawyers react to Lammy's plan.

Labour will require every lawyer working in a City firm to provide 35 hours of pro bono work a year in order for it to qualify for government contracts, the party has said at its annual conference this week.

David Lammy, the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor, told attendees that it had been "another year of widening inequality" in which City law firms had made "billions in profit while low-paid workers see their tax bill rise and wages fall".

Having demonised City law, the Doughty Street tenant announced that a Labour government would introduce a "new national pro-bono service" to "support those who can’t afford legal advice and are ineligible for legal aid".

Labour explained that City firms would only be considered for government contracts if they provided at least 35 hours of pro bono legal services, per lawyer, per year.

The plan achieved the impossible by uniting corporate lawyers and Legal Aid lawyers, who dismissed the proposal as unworkable and misguided.

Mira Hammad, a barrister at Garden Court North, said it was a "terrible idea" for increasing access to justice which showed "complete contempt for the specialist skills and knowledge of lawyers working in legal aid sectors". Pro bono advice from lawyers "who don't understand the area can do more harm than good", she said.

Asylum and immigration lawyer Alasdair Mackenzie agreed that giving time for free to people who can’t afford legal advice "isn’t a bad thing as such", but it would not be necessary "if we had a functioning legal aid system". Lammy's plan "seems to exchange a right to properly funded access to justice for Victorian-style charity handed out by the rich", he said.

Others pointed out that treating people as loss leaders might not benefit them. "Imagine being the client represented by a lawyer forced to deal with your case in order to bring in more lucrative work for the firm", said one commenter.

City lawyers agreed that Lammy's proposal betrayed a lack of appreciation of the complexities of Legal Aid-related work. "Jesus, the idea of city lawyers working on criminal cases", said a poster on the RollOnFriday discussion board: "horrifying".

Labour's policy also appeared to overlook the financial ramifications for its external advisors. A City firm of 1,000 solicitors all swapping 35 hours of work charged at £200 an hour for unbillable pro bono time would cost it £7 million a year. Unless a firm compels its lawyers to rack up Lammy's pro bono contribution in addition to their existing workloads, shutters its current pro bono projects, or increases its rates, the cost of winning the government's contract might outweigh the benefits.

The Labour party did not respond to a request for comment.

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Bob 01 October 21 09:07

Why are lawyers always expected to work for free. Will Labour also be requesting other professions to work for free in return for public contracts??

Anonymous 01 October 21 09:30

Absolutely bonkers idea, which doesn’t appear to have been given the slightest bit of thought.  Very few (if any) firms would consider this a price worth paying for most government contracts (which often involve heavily reduced rates anyway).

And as the quotes in the article already identify, I’m sure my legal aid client on a GBH charge will be comforted to hear that I know my way around the Insolvency Act.

PAUL ROBERTS 01 October 21 09:43

City lawyers pay vast amounts in tax so they are making a significant contribution to the legal aid budget anyway.

Anonymous 01 October 21 09:44

Govt work is already barely profitable for most City firms.  If you throw this on top, no one is going to continue the stuff they are prepared to do (large disputes and projects mainly)

Rufus 01 October 21 09:51

This is actually how it works in Jersey. Big law firms simply have pro bono departments with appropriately qualified lawyers in them, that are funded by the other departments.  Effectively it is the cost of a practising licence.  Not ideal I'm sure, but cuts out the middle man of simply paying higher taxes and then dolling funds out again to other lawyers having had the funds work their way through a civil service moras.  Keeps lawyers in touch with all sides of the profession as well (and probably provides a good opportunity for juniors to learn a greater variety of skill sets).  

Anonymous 01 October 21 09:59

Doesn't labour propose something like this every few years, for likes? Then it gets put back in its box precisely because it's a nonsense.

The Legal Aid system is cratering and real, sensible policies are required to ensure we have a functioning justice system.

What's depressing is that Lammy is a trained barrister who works alongside a lot of lawyers in the House and so he must know he's speaking out of his arse, which suggests that he doesn't actually care.

Anonymous 01 October 21 10:00

Youngsters may not be aware, but the Back for Britain campaign in the picture tried to encourage workers to work for free to get Blighty back on its feet. It was a huge flop.

Anonymous 01 October 21 10:01

This is the same Lammy who thinks men can grow a cervix, so it's not a total shock that he completely misunderstands the legal sector.

Anonymous 01 October 21 10:08

What's that, David Lammy has said something stupid? Again?

Well I for one am shocked.



That he manages to be one of Labour's most visible MPs no matter who the leader is, is a stark illustration of just how chronic their talent shortage has become.

Anonymous 01 October 21 10:24

Surely instead of this tripe, Labour should be advocating a return to fully funded legal aid? I mean, if not, what’s the point of them?

Anonymous 01 October 21 10:25

City lawyers doing pro bono criminal/family/etc work to solve the access to justice crisis makes about as much sense as city bankers doing pro bono counselling to solve the access to mental healthcare crisis. I mean ones all lawyering, and the other's all talking... bankers can talk, right? Simples!

The real point is that the richer city law firms become, the easier it is to become a fatcat punchbag. Expect more of this.

Anonymous 01 October 21 10:35

No one tells their plumber to work for nothing even though plumbers are often paid more than lawyers. No one requires nurses plenty of women are paid more than legal aid lawyers to work for nothing at the weekends.

Anonymous Anonymous 01 October 21 11:56

This is a good idea. It will give ordinary people the chance to have expert legal advice which they could not afford. 


Ya boy Lambo 01 October 21 12:37

@10:25 is onto something here.

Big New Labour Policy: City Bankers need to do 35 hours of pro bono a year. They can get down the C.A.B and help people with their personal financial management strategies. Like, y'know, how to pay off their credit card debts and stuff. It's all money management like they do at work so they're the ideal people to do it.

Next up, the Big Four can forget about any Government gigs until they prove each of their fee earners has spent 35 hours doing freebie auditing work for their local butcher. Free management consultancy for everyone! Put that in your manifestos and light 'em up!

... and don't give me that tripe about Labour not knowing how to manage the books and generally screwing up the economy. I've just cracked that one because this time you're all getting free stuff and nobody is going to be paid anything at all. So take that Etonites! All your fancy-schmancy education and your bowler hats and you couldn't even come up with a great idea like that.



Now, for my next policy I'm off to have a good old moan about workers conditions - I hear there's far too many greedy bosses making their workers slave long hours for inadequate compensation! Labour to the rescue!

Anonymous 01 October 21 13:06

When will politicians understand that every time they grunt out a new law it means even more work for even more specialised lawyers?

Reasonable Man 01 October 21 13:06

How many UK law firms have 1k + UK lawyers ? If the answer is (say) 5, what material difference would your illustrative figure of lost revenue of £7m have to their last reported turnover ? And of those (5) firms what effect, if any, would the imposition of a 35hr annual target have on their current pro bono arrangements ? There was, of course, no suggestion that city lawyers would (1) be required to undertake any particular category of work, or (2) act as some kind of replacement for work that is currently legally aided, or (3) undertake any pro bono at all if they don’t want a UKGov contract. 

Anonymous 01 October 21 13:09

Great idea 

I'll get my insurance team to appear in the Crown Court defending GBH cases

Competence 01 October 21 13:59

The point that concerns me more than the time / money aspect is that you are asking City lawyers in most cases to advise on matters which have really serious consequences for the people involved, despite the fact that those lawyers will in many / most cases have little or no experience in the relevant area of law.

I am a partner at US firm in its banking practice, but having a lot of experience drafting loan agreements doesn't mean I can jump in and competently advise on even relatively straightforward family / housing / social security matters. An NQ that does that type of work for a living would do a vastly better job.

Even as a Labour member this just strikes me as a poorly thought through gimmick. A better outcome would be to raise tax, properly fund the legal aid budget and hire people who actually know what they are doing in the relevant areas of law.

People have a right not just to counsel, but to competent counsel. It is very hard to see how somebody trying to sandwich a few pro bono hours in between transactional matters and relying on PLC for the answers is likely to meet that standard.

Anon 01 October 21 15:05

More than happy to provide pro bono securitization advice to those who need but cannot afford. 

Anonymous 01 October 21 15:25

In fairness, being paid to spend 35 hours of company time a year winging it on cases that I didn't care about, which had no ability to negatively impact my career, and in which I could excuse my own incompetence by saying "it was pro bono and I was just trying my best to help someone... I know that it wasn't my area of expertise, but just think how badly it would have gone if they had nobody at all" doesn't sound so bad.

It would probably feel a bit like playing with the free bets when you first join a gambling site.



Bring it on I say. I'll take a stack of Immigration and Asylum files for starters, they've always looked like an easy wheeze.

Anonymous 01 October 21 15:27

In fact, come to think of it, Labour giving clueless City banking lawyers like me some Immigration files to work on would probably have the upside of letting them go into the subsequent election with a credible 'Tough on Immigration' pitch. So I begin to see the wisdom in this scheme now that I think about it more.

eagle 01 October 21 16:14

not sure there are city firms with 1,000 lawyers charging £200 per hour. for such a firm an average charge out rate of £500?

Jamie Hamilton 01 October 21 16:24

Yes, eagle. I picked a very conservative estimate - even then it doesn’t seem to add up. 

Shot thru the face, and you're tooooo blame... 01 October 21 18:35

You giiiive Labour a bad name....

Once again, a Labour rep shooting his own party in the face with a preposterous notion about what will fix a real problem.  This is the reason ordinary people end up voting for Conservative bilks. FML. We're doomed.

Anonymous 01 October 21 20:23

Most of the comments betray a real lack of understanding about (a) what the 2012 legal aid cuts actually did and (b) the nature of pro bono work in a city law firm.

For example, there are plenty of employment and property lawyers in the City who can provide the employment and housing pro bono support that’s severely lacking in the civil legal aid system. Although admittedly, someone doing structured derivatives may struggle to find too much direct experience to bring to the table.

I’m not saying it’s not a stupid policy, just that, if it is, most people are giving the wrong reasons. And whilst it would be nice just to say “let’s increases taxes to restore legal aid”, that feels like a much tougher sell than “City firms make fat cat profits so should give something back to their community”

Anonymous 01 October 21 20:59

Public contracts are all won by competitive tender by low-rent national shit-shops like Pooshits, Ughwin Shitsell, DWF and DLA who have barely literate paralegals in places like Sheffield and Milton Keynes grinding out sausage-factory work for pennies. They all do pro bono (or pretend to), so business as usual there.

Anonymous 02 October 21 00:18

"Govt work is already barely profitable for most City firms."  

You can't make a profit on £2500 per hour? Boo. Fucking. Hoo.

City firms existence depends solely on the reputation of English law as a (relatively) honest fair forum that respects the Rule of Law. Obviously city boys and girls are incompetent in everything that directly matters to the rest of the population but given their massive incomes couldn't exist without the rules and sacrifices of other members of our society it's not unreasonable they make a healthy contribution in return.

Anonymous 02 October 21 00:30

Footballers should obviously be taxed at 99% of their global income and wealth too plus a gradually descending scale applied to anyone connected to them based on points of contact, facilitation of wealth, etc, etc.

Touker 03 October 21 13:04

Lammy once again proving that he is an absolute two-hat with nonsensical drivel like that.

Anonymous 07 October 21 21:55


City firms existence depends solely on the reputation of English law as a (relatively) honest fair forum that respects the Rule of Law. 

The Secret Barrister disagrees.

Anon 07 October 21 23:11

This same system exists in Australia and enjoys significant support from the firms. Firms that do pro bono aren’t turning away paying clients, nor are they losing money. 
The pro bono work being done at city firms is also not criminal or family law, but civil legal work in partnership with law centres. Crappy coverage, RoF. 

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