Larry Donnelly writes in today’s Irish Times about plans by PILA (the Public Interest Law Alliance) to overcome the barriers to public interest law in Ireland and to encourage a culture in which lawyers act more readily on a pro bono basis.
In DIT, we run ‘Law in Society’ a community-based learning module which seeks to encourage students to reflect on the social context of law and how law impacts upon society. It is hoped that this will help the lawyers of the future to create the culture that PILA seeks to develop.
Donnelly writes of the obstacles thus:
Additionally, just about all large, international law firms have pro bono departments and incentivise their lawyers to spend a small percentage of their time serving clients who might not otherwise have access to legal representation. Law schools have also played a vital role in engaging students in public interest law work, both through related curriculum offerings and clinical legal education programmes.
In Ireland, there is a laudable tradition of the provision of legal services by practitioners, at no cost for those who cannot afford to pay. This is typically done, however, on an ad hoc basis, and not in any structured way.
Moreover, the current scheme for the provision of free civil legal aid remains inadequate, especially with respect to its extremely restrictive income eligibility level, and the express prohibition on the provision of aid for cases brought in the public interest.
What’s more, there are a number of additional systemic obstacles that effectively deny access to the legal system for those individuals on society’s margins and those non-governmental organisations which represent their collective interests.
While much could be achieved through altering the security for costs regime and making it easier for organisations to litigate on behalf of the vulnerable, it is probably through the provision of education for our future lawyers that these barriers will be overcome, instead of being taken for granted. As such, all legal academics could contribute to this process significantly. I will be talking about community-based learning programmes at the Irish Association of Law Teachers Conference in Limerick on November 28th. Larry Donnelly will also be speaking at the event.