In a democratic society like ours, lawyers play a vital role as the custodians of justice and in order to carry out that role sufficiently, it is a duty of lawyers to help promote access to justice. According to the 2018 Justice Needs and Satisfaction report by Hiil, there are 25 million legal problems per year in Nigeria. Furthermore, Low-income people are two times less likely to engage courts and more than three times less likely to engage lawyers than high-earners.
The report states that poor people are more likely to have their legal disputes ongoing and unresolved, compared with other better-off groups. Moreover, on average, the chances of obtaining an outcome increase in line with income levels. Richer people have access to more effective dispute resolution mechanisms.
This means there are a lot of low – earning individuals who are unable to seek legal redress for a breach of their rights, these class of people are therefore experiencing a failure of the justice system first hand. This problem can however be mitigated if lawyers who number in thousands took up more pro bono work.
Pro bono work means professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment. It differs from traditional volunteering because it uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them. The need for legal services among the poor is overwhelming and the office of the public defender is not equipped to handle all matters in this class adequately.
As legal practitioners, there are quite a number of benefits to handling pro bono work such as diversity of experience, opportunities for collaboration, provides a sense of self – fulfillment and helps lawyers build skills. Pro bono helps young lawyers gain experience and build their skill sets. It also satisfies the responsibility of lawyers to the society. The Nigerian Bar Association has always encouraged members to participate actively in pro bono matters and local branches are often championing pro bono causes within their jurisdictions.
For instance, as the Vice – Chairman of the NBA Ikeja Branch between 2016- 2018, I headed the Human Rights Committee and the branch undertook numerous pro bono cases. We were also able to organize several events on topics bothering on human rights for the benefit of the public. I was able to observe first-hand the benefits of taking up pro bono work. I urge my fellow colleagues to actively take on pro bono work for the benefit of our local communities as in the words of Janet Reno – I think lawyers who engage in pro bono service to protect those who cannot help themselves are truly the heroes and the heroines of the legal profession.
Caroline Ibharuneafe, Mrs.
Past Vice – Chairman, NBA Ikeja)