In Ukraine, pro bono legal services were provided on a case-by-case basis until recently. The 2014-15 revolution and subsequent conflict, as well as ongoing national reform of the legal aid sector, have encouraged the Ukrainian legal community to engage in pro bono work.
In 2011, the Law of Ukraine “on free legal aid” established a state-financed framework for primary and secondary legal aid. Primary legal aid envisages informing people, regardless of nationality, of their legal rights and remedies in court proceedings. Secondary legal aid provides for legal representation and defence for certain vulnerable groups through the engagement of independent lawyers.
However, the provision of secondary legal aid has suffered from the low rate of compensation that the government designates for the provision of free legal services, effectively ruling out first-class lawyers.
In Ukraine, only a specific category of lawyers, who are known as “advocates” and who may also represent clients in criminal proceedings, are obliged to provide secondary legal aid in accordance with an agreement pursuant to the Law of Ukraine, which covers "advocacy and advocate’s activity".
Although there are no statutory obligations for other legal professionals to render their services voluntarily, increasingly lawyers and law firms in Ukraine have been practising pro bono.
So far, such support has focused mainly on protecting those affected by military developments in east Ukraine, contributing to legal education, and helping the public and NGOs to implement reforms.
In 2013, the Ukrainian Pro Bono Clearing House was launched, enabling those lawyers who are willing to offer their services voluntarily to register. In addition, established lawyers from leading law firms have regularly lectured at law schools and consulted with state authorities on how to develop legislation based on the highest international standards and aimed at streamlining the public sector.
Although it is too early to judge the progress of pro bono practice in Ukraine, the legislative introduction of free legal aid, the mandatory engagement of advocates, and the commitment of the legal community to provide effective legal support are all positive developments.