MADRID (TrustLaw) – Pro bono is a new concept in Spain, where many lawyers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are not aware of its existence, Carmen Pombo, director of the Fundación Fernando Pombo, told TrustLaw at the 6th annual European Pro Bono Forum in Madrid.
With a well-established and effective legal aid system in place, it seemed there was no need of another way of providing free legal assistance to those who couldn’t afford lawyers’ fees.
Austerity spending cuts approved by the government are now threatening the welfare system, including legal aid, which could leave many in need of free legal services.
In an interview with TrustLaw, Pombo talks about the new role and scope of pro bono work in Spain.
Q: What is the Fundación Fernando Pombo?
A: The Fundación Fernando Pomo was established two years ago to promote social responsibility within the legal profession…To comply with our mission we are trying to develop a culture of pro bono in Spain because we thought that the way that lawyers can help most is by means of pro bono.
We have other projects such as community service and we also have a role in monitoring the presumption of innocence…In what we call the pro bono channel we have several action lines – one is devoted to the education of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in legal matters that matter most to the beneficiaries. Another part of our pro bono channel is linked to education on the future of the profession – we do programmes with universities and we try to explain the social responsibility of the legal profession and even what pro bono is.
And then we have the pro bono in general – not so much teaching or legal education but rather providing legal assistance… we have a network of lawyers… we provide [them] with different opportunities for different specializations. We act as an internal clearinghouse.
Q: Do you see a lot of interest from lawyers, a desire to do pro bono work?
A: The result has been amazing. We have only had this programme of pro bono advice in place for a year and every time we send an email with pro bono proposals we always have the assignment linked to a person in less than 24 hours, which is amazing.
Q: Is pro bono a well-established practice in Spain?
A: No…we are a newborn in Spain, The pro bono culture and work is still very new. Many lawyers don’t know what pro bono means and not only that – also NGOs in Spain, many of them don’t know what pro bono means either.
Q: Why is the concept of pro bono new in Spain?
A: The Spanish legal system already had a very strong legal aid system in place – it had been working for over 200 years and was effective. Therefore…lawyers didn’t have the impression that there were people in need of justice, who didn’t have access to it, because they always had access to justice.
Now there is a big difference between those who can go to legal aid and those who have the means to pay [for] legal services – there is…room where we can work and have both a legal aid system and also have pro bono.
Q: How do legal aid and pro bono coexist?
A: Pro bono in Spain is directed only to charities and NGOs, not to individuals, whereas legal aid is mainly directed to individual people.
Q: Do you expect the need for pro bono to grow in Spain?
A: …It is like, no one before saw a need for a mobile phone and now everybody needs [one]. If you don’t know that it exists, no one will ask for it. There is definitely a need for legal assistance for charities and NGOs…with legal assistance they can do a better job…so absolutely yes.
Q: What do the austerity cuts mean for legal aid in Spain?
A: We have been suffering from an enormous economic crisis – the government doesn’t have enough money (for) the expenses that the state has…the government is (enforcing) an extreme strategy whereby lots of cuts are being made, everywhere.
This also affects the legal aid budget.
In Spain…responsibility for legal aid has been transferred to the regions and now some of the regions say they don’t have money to pay the legal aid lawyers.