The provision of legal aid to the vulnerable and indigent has emerged in Uganda as a dominant intervention in enhancing access to justice for the poor. The Uganda Advocates Act imposes an ethical and social responsibility on all advocates (including in-house advocates) to provide 40 hours of pro bono legal services per year. Consequently, countless individuals who would have gone without legal help of any kind benefit from pro bono assistance each year. Pro bono services in Uganda are rendered through a number of avenues, including compulsion through regulations, community legal aid clinics, non-governmental organisations and payment of lawyers on state brief to represent individuals entitled to pro bono services.
Pro bono in Uganda is focussed on NGOs and indigent segments of the population, but overlooks the inability of the law to address the need for small and growing businesses (SGBs) to access pro bono legal services. Private lawyers are reluctant to provide pro bono assistance to for-profit entities due to the fear of being besieged with requests to handle other for-profit entities’ work for free. A great number of SGBs have the potential to grow their revenues, add jobs to the economy and deliver more tax revenue to their communities, but lack the resources to reach the next level of growth. Each year, thousands of small business owners fail to address legal matters despite their fundamental importance. Legal issues are seldom an immediate concern of SGBs and the legal realm is considered distant to day-to-day operations, with legal expenses eschewed in favor of more proximate and operational aspects of the business. Legal counsel and guidance are solicited when in a crisis, but soliciting counsel beforehand would not only allow SGBs to understand and anticipate legal risks but also to mitigate them.
Consequently, with COVID-19 an extraordinary number of small businesses are suddenly fighting for survival and struggling to keep afloat. Promoting the concept of pro bono and expanding the idea to assist small and growing businesses would go a long way to improving the culture and provision of pro bono in Uganda. Our firm launched a recovery and resilience program to help SGBs navigate the unexpected COVID-19 economic crisis (read more about that ). The overarching objective of the legal support program is to raise the management standards and practices of SGBs. For SGBs to survive during this pandemic, they must be able to adapt their operations to the new environment. The benefits of this programme include reducing the stress and loss of productivity associated with attempting to resolve a legal issue without assistance. It has received an overwhelming number of requests from SGBs and we hope this can be replicated by more lawyers in the country.