As you know, “pro bono” is commonly defined as a legal service provided voluntarily and for free by a lawyer in support of non-profit organisations and private individuals in need.
Although lawyers in Italy have this social function, it has not been defined in legal terms and remains ungoverned by laws or regulations. The only regulated “legal social activity” is Legal Aid (Patrocinio a spese dello Stato), an institution affording legal assistance – only with respect to litigation – to private individuals matching certain low-income thresholds, whereby legal fees are paid by the state.
Despite this lack of rules, there are many initiatives to undertake pro bono to assist non-profit organisations and private individuals (the latter mainly for out-of-court matters which lack legal protections).
First, there is Pro Bono Italia, the first such association of lawyers, law firms and forensic associations whose goal it is to promote and spread a culture of pro bono throughout Italy. It works closely with two clearinghouses (CILD - Coalizione Italiana Libertà e Diritti Civili and CSVnet - Coordinamento Nazionale dei Centri di Servizio per il Volontariato).
We also have global pro bono legal programmes, such as TrustLaw – the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s legal service – that bring international experience to the process of connecting NGOs with law firms in Italy.
There has also been an influx of legal clinics established within several Italian universities driven by the principle of “learning by doing”, with the goal of providing opportunities for students to practise law and develop skills through individualised supervision, mentoring, and modelling. They also offer students advance access to justice locally by working on real world cases and projects, and inspire them to develop a lifelong commitment to pro bono service.
Finally, many local bar associations have set up “legal helpdesks” to assist private individuals, mostly in out-of-court matters. They were set up to support NGOs and private individuals in understanding and resolving legal issues arising from the COVID-19 crisis of 2020.
In addition to these organised forms, many of the solo legal practitioners that are commonplace in Italy’s legal landscape provide pro bono assistance to those who need it – however, they do this without being subject to any rules and/or procedures governing or even defining pro bono activity, findings from a research study by ASLA (Associazione Studi Legali Associati) concluded. In a 2017 decree, the third sector in Italy was given a common legislative definition and uniformity on how to manage non-profit organisations on matters of pro bono, while private individuals shall continue to be provided with such services on a voluntary ad hoc basis only.