Before considering the challenges of pro bono work in Colombia, it is important to refer first to the effective exercise of the fundamental right of access to justice. In Colombia, a large part of the population experiences great difficulty in seeking legal redress for their rights to be effectively protected and enforced.
The study "Legal Needs in Colombia", conducted in 2021 by the Ministry of Justice and Law, the Colombian Department of Statistics (known as DANE in Spanish) and the Colombian Planning Department (DNP in Spanish), concluded that 19.8 percent of the legal needs stated by Colombians had been met, while 80.2 percent of them had not been resolved..
This was due to a lack of knowledge about accessing legal proceedings, and a lack of time to start the required processes. Other factors included insufficient capacity at courts, delays, and the formality that makes access to justice somewhat theoretical and distant..
Although one of the purposes of pro bono work is to close the gap between people’s needs and effective access to justice, it is also true that, as pro bono lawyers, it is a challenge to offer our services with the existing delay of courts and the time it takes to obtain a final decision.
However, pro bono work in Colombia has progressively increased and has allowed more people to believe that achieving justice is a reality. This is reflected by the number of cases handled in Colombia through the Fundación Pro Bono, a local clearinghouse. According to its director, while only 21 cases were taken in 2009, that number reached 950 in 2021.
As a member of the Pro Bono Committee at Baker McKenzie Bogotá, one of the biggest challenges is to find a sustained interest on the part of lawyers in helping the community over the period of time it can take to resolve cases. Further, communication with pro bono users can be difficult as sometimes their access to phones or internet is precarious. However, we have managed to achieve a sustained growing interest in pro bono work at the firm. Since 2017, we have seen an increase of more than 35% in the number of hours dedicated to pro bono matters.
Every case is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the social aspect of our profession, and this is reinforced by the appreciation from our clients as recipients of our pro bono work and the sense of purpose of our lawyers.