There’s no shortage of noteworthy examples of legal pro bono work throughout history and around the world. John Adams – who went on to become the United States’ second president – took on the defence of British soldiers prosecuted for the Boston Massacre in 1770 free of charge. While solicitor Imran Khan sought justice for the murder of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence without taking a fee.


But, as solicitor Duncan Rann explains, pro bono doesn’t always have to relate to law and order. “Pro bono literally means, ‘for the good of others’”, he says. “Traditionally, it was linked to civil liberties and civil rights, or other charitable causes. But this isn’t the case anymore.

“In fact, it doesn’t even have to relate to legal work – it can encompass anything. It could even look like giving your neighbour advice over your fence. I used to act as the honorary solicitor for my rugby club. But I also coached youth players for ten years – both of those are examples of pro bono work.”


Why do people undertake these not insubstantial duties? For Khan, the driver was the fact that he could see a blatant injustice, namely the police’s inactions around the case, and he wanted to help put right. He also provided the Lawrence family with representation they would otherwise have been denied.


Rann, too, speaks to this sense of providing quality advice or similar services for those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access it. “If I were to supply my rugby club with advice on, say, a small employment matter, and they were paying for it, it could cost them upwards of £1,000. That’s six people’s fee subscriptions.”


Experience and exposure to new areas are also key factors when it comes to pro bono work. Khan had been a solicitor for just 18 months when he took on what went on to become the watershed Stephen Lawrence case. It upended the trajectory of his career, although he openly admits that his success ‘was born out of tragedy’.

The final and perhaps most obvious reason that people give up their time and skills in order to benefit others is of course the sense of satisfaction and self-fulfilment it provides them with. “By providing expertise free of charge, I’m doing my bit,” says Rann. “My rugby club has been a big part of my life for many years now, and in order for it to function effectively, those that benefit from it have to play their part, too. We all have to contribute in whatever way we can. It just won’t succeed otherwise. The club works better because of everything that we individually put into it.”