Deloitte Legal is supporting the charity LawWorks (AKA the Solicitors Pro Bono Group), in developing and launching Free Legal Answers UK, an online platform that connects individuals in need of legal advice with lawyers who are able to provide it on a pro bono basis.
The Access to Justice (A2J) project, which is in an early pilot stage, has helped about 50 clients so far and has seen 90 lawyers sign up. It is now looking to attract more lawyers to help out in offering their services for free.
It has been granted a licence to introduce the service in England and Wales. All advice provided through the website will be insured by LawWorks’ professional indemnity insurance.
Given that this is aimed at the general public and especially for people who cannot afford legal services – (although, to be frank, that’s a huge number of people) – the focus is on anyone who has experience with: housing, family and employment law.
More specifically this is focused on those individuals on a low income, but also who are not eligible for legal aid. Of course, the reality is that most people who are not on a high income would not be able to afford the input of a lawyer once fees reached more than a few £1,000s. I.e. A2J is really an issue for not just a small number of people on low incomes.
For example, in the UK, data shows that:
- 6.50% have absolutely no savings
- 25.95% have less than £1,000 in savings – i.e. over a quarter of all people in the UK. People in this position clearly could not pay for very much legal help, no matter what the scale of the provider.
- And while the remainder may have several thousand pounds in savings, that cash would soon run out for most if they engaged a lawyer to help with any legal needs that were not settled very quickly and easily.
So, whatever this UK version of Free Legal Answers can do is very helpful. A similar project already exists in the US, supported by the American Bar Association (ABA).
While the legal help is vital and much needed, there will be limits on what can be provided. As their site explains:
- ‘The lawyer who answers you is providing their service for free (pro bono).
- The lawyer will only write to you about the problem you put on the website.
- The lawyer will not help you after that or do anything else for you.
- Unless the lawyer chooses to so do, their name will only be known to LawWorks.
- The lawyer will not:
- make calls or file papers for you
- go to meetings for you
- go to court for you.’
In terms of Deloitte Legal, the Big Four legal arm has also provided management and technical expertise to assist LawWorks in ‘configuring and testing the website to fit the legal environment in England and Wales’.
Their efforts relate to a wider mission run by Deloitte, called ‘One Million Futures’, which aims to help one million people to get to where they want to be through ‘access to education and employment, raising aspirations, improving skills and developing leaders’.
Also, the Access to Justice Foundation has awarded funding for a dedicated project development post for the service, which will include verifying lawyers registering to take part, under the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) Legal Support for Litigants in Person grant programme.
Commenting on the project: Michael Castle, UK Managing Partner at Deloitte Legal, said: ‘Justice is a fundamental right for everyone. It should not be exclusive for those who can afford it. We have assisted LawWorks in configuring this innovative, secure platform, with our deep understanding of how technology can improve the delivery of legal services. Its ultimate aim is to reduce physical barriers around access to justice, allowing individuals and lawyers to connect in a more flexible and accessible way.’
The Chief Executive of LawWorks, Martin Barnes, concluded: ‘Pro bono is not and should not be seen as an alternative to legal aid, but it can help enable people to access the timely advice they need and which they cannot afford to pay for. We are excited about the potential for ‘Free Legal Answers’ to provide new pro bono opportunities for lawyers willing to give their time and expertise for free.’
Overall, a great initiative, but one that also underlines the challenges we face as a society to overcome one simple, but incredibly difficult to solve, barrier: the high cost of legal services.
The reality is that we live in a society where a significant proportion of people cannot access any lasting legal advice other than in areas where they can get a no-win, no-fee deal with a lawyer. Otherwise they are priced out of obtaining any help.
But, as legal aid’s erosion steadily leaves more and more people without any coverage, and legal costs also rise across all parts of the economy, many are left with very little affordable legal input, especially when their matter demands sustained input, such as taking a matter to court where there isn’t a no-win, no-fee element – which covers a huge amount of legal territory.
So, kudos to all involved.
If you are a lawyer and would like to get involved – please see here: