How can pro bono work in a health setting?

Over the last few years an increasing number of legal clinics have been established in healthcare and NHS settings, as well as medical legal partnerships. These innovative projects recognise the links between social issues and health.

Poverty, poor housing, a lack of adequate food to eat and unemployment or financial worries can have a significant impact on people’s physical and mental health. GPs are often asked by patients for help in sleeping at night; when the root cause is worrying about losing a job, home, and maybe family. We know from Macmillan that cancer sufferers often say: ‘It’s not the cancer that keeps me awake at night; it’s worrying how I will pay the bills.’

The case for locating legal advice in health settings was highlighted by the Low Commission report Welfare Advice and Better Health in 2014, which recommended that the most effective way of delivering social welfare law advice was to embed it in the places where people already turn for help, where their needs are understood and where they trust the providers.

In this way, legal advice can be viewed as part of a broader ‘social prescribing’ model which also tackles isolation and other underlying causes of ill health. For many years this was funded by civil legal aid, by local authorities and by forward thinking health commissioners. Unfortunately, LASPO has led to cuts to this type of advice too. But the need hasn’t gone away and many examples of innovative projects have sprung up around the country, all reliant on pro bono support by lawyers and law students.

One is the Bromley by Bow Community Centre, an innovative community organisation in east London, founded by barrister GP Sir Sam Everington. The Centre supports families, young people and adults to learn new skills, improve health and wellbeing, find employment and develop the confidence to achieve goals and transform lives. The integrated services they offer include specialist legal advice on debt, employment law and immigration.

The UCL Legal Clinic is another unique example; an academic collaboration seeking to provide a delivery prototype and evaluation model that can be scaled up for use by others. Launched in January 2016, this is a student-run law clinic based at the Guttmann Health Centre in Newham. It offers free legal advice on a range of social welfare law issues to patients on a GP referral or drop-in basis (see Another collaboration, between Macmillan Cancer Support and LawWorks, provides employment-related support for people with cancer and their carers (see case studies at:

What is public legal education?

Lawyers also play a key role in providing public legal education (PLE), for example by working with schools to engage children in how the legal system works, the rule of law, individual rights and responsibilities. The Bar Council’s work with the Citizenship Foundation on Art 50 earlier this year is a great example, but beyond schools, there are lots of PLE projects involving barristers and other lawyers working in the community, usually with the most vulnerable. All need more support.

The heaviest users of public services are often those who have a wide range of interlinked problems, and are therefore poorly equipped to deal with them. Often, they do not realise that difficulties in their life might have a legal solution; they may think they’re just unlucky, or a victim of discrimination. PLE can enable people to gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to resolve problems themselves and to avoid future problems. Importantly, starting education at a young age can have a lasting impact.

The Bar Council has a long-established partnership with the Citizenship Foundation, sponsoring Bar Mock Trials (for over 25 years now), as well as helping to develop and deliver legal education, and to mentor students in mock trials supporting by experiential learning a better understanding of the legal process.

Reaching beyond school and into the community, LawforLife (L4L) has demonstrated that training for trusted intermediaries in the community can empower them to help others and reach the neediest. A clinical PLE module for students at Birkbeck College included practical work in the community through Hibiscus Initiatives who assist women from black, minority ethnic and refugee migrant groups in detention centres, prisons or released into the community. Law students can learn important new skills and support people who really need their help.

Pro bono input by lawyers and judges, as well as feedback from front line advisers, LawWorks clinic lawyers and Personal Support Unit volunteers, helps keep Law for Life’s Advicenow website up to date for the thousands of users looking for clear guidance every year.

To encourage those with an interest in PLE to have a go, the Citizenship Foundation and BPP University Law School are coordinating a nationwide PLE campaign during this year’s National Pro Bono Week. Visit your local secondary school to deliver a one-hour Social Media and Law workshop (training materials provided, see events listing below).

Inspired? Find an opportunity today

We hope by shining a light on some of this work we can encourage those involved in such programmes to tell us more about what they are doing and to encourage others to get involved. There are many ways to share your skills and expertise pro bono; innovatively in the health and education sectors, through front line agencies and law centres or of course through the Bar Pro Bono Unit. Explore the range of ways you can give back by looking at the Volunteer Portal on the National Pro Bono Centre website at Find an opportunity today, and make a difference.

NPBW 17: what’s on

LawWorks lecture: pro bono and the co-production imperative
Thurs 9 November @ 6:00pm–9:00pm
K & L Gates, 1 New Change, London, EC4M 9AF
Edgar Cahn, founder of the Timebanking movement, will deliver a special lecture on co-production in pro bono work.

Joshua Rozenberg QC launches National Pro Bono Week
Mon 6 November @ 6:00pm–8:00pm
Hogan Lovells, Atlantic House, Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2FG
Joshua Rozenberg QC interviews panellists on pro bono.

Pro bono cost orders (PBC) – what’s in it for me?
Mon 6 November @ 10:00am–12:00pm
Liverpool Law Society, 2nd Floor, Helix, Edmund Street, Liverpool, L3 9NY
Live-streamed seminar by theAccess to Justice Foundationaims to break down the barriers of submitting PBC within the advice and legal sector.

Pro bono and climate change justice
Fri 10 November @ 9:30am–4:30pm
The Grange Hotel, St Paul’s, 10 Godliman St, London, EC4V 5AJ
The 50th Congress of the European Bars Federation will round off the week with the Climate Change Justice Conference.

Citizen and the state: poor decision-making and the role of pro bono
Tues 7 November @ 6:00pm–8:00pm
The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, 8 South Square, London, WC1R 5ET
Chair of the Bar, Andrew Langdon QC, will be joined by Sir Ernest Ryder, Sir Henry Brooke, Jonathan Peacock QC and David Wolfe QC at this Bar Council event to discuss the impact on immigration, tax, special educational needs and welfare provision.

The Great Legal Quiz
Wed 8 November
Your own venue
Have fun and compete whilst doing your part to help support those most in need of specialist free legal advice and help.

Volunteer to bring the law to life in your local school
Mon 6 November–Fri 10 November
Secondary schools across the UK
Law students and legal professionals are encouraged to visit a local secondary school to deliver a workshop on Social Media and the Law. Training materials provided. Coordinated by the Citizenship Foundation and BPP University Law School.