Lawyers in Birmingham have been urged to help combat legal aid cuts by focusing pro bono activities on the most vulnerable in the local community.
In a keynote speech given by Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of LawWorks, at Birmingham Law Society’s (BLS) annual pro bono event, lawyers were told that the scarce free specialist legal advice must be used resourcefully.
LawWorks is a national charity, which aims to provide free legal help to individuals and community groups who cannot afford to pay for it and who are unable to access legal aid.
The event, organised by BLS’s Pro Bono Committee, gave lawyers the opportunity to meet with charitable and voluntary organisations and find out how they can get involved with pro bono work across Birmingham.
In her address, Rebecca focused on the recent changes in public funding following the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).
The new legislation came into play in April. It was brought in as part of the Government’s plans to slash £350m a year from the legal aid budget.
Rebecca said: “As a result of LASPO, we have already seen services decreased at Citizens Advice Bureaux and the closure of law centres, including Birmingham Law Centre. Pro bono charities like LawWorks have inevitably come under more pressure.
“Our response to the cuts is to provide pro bono which is more strategic by offering a range of assistance. This varies from public legal education for those most able to help themselves through legal advice clinics and other forms of early intervention, to providing individual casework, which must be reserved only for the most vulnerable. The value of this approach is ensuring that the precious resource of specialist legal advice given one-to-one is used as effectively as possible.”
Ruth Creed, chair of Birmingham Law Society’s Pro Bono Committee, said: “Since last year’s event, there have been significant changes in public funding which we wanted to focus our attentions on. We are eager to encourage more solicitors to use their skills to benefit their local communities and were pleased Rebecca was able to share her views on this with our members.”
More than 100 people from the city’s legal sector attended the event held at No5 Chambers.