A Conducive Environment for Pro Bono is Developing in India

by Kalindhi Bhatia and Prashant Daga- BTG Legal
Friday, 3 February 2023 08:24 GMT

Natural justice is the foundation on which the Indian legal framework is built, and it includes the opportunity for everyone to be heard. The Constitution of India – which came into force in 1950 - recognises the right of citizens to receive legal aid from the state[1], under the Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette to be Observed by Advocates[2]. Yet advocates must be mindful that anyone genuinely in need of a lawyer is entitled to legal assistance even if they cannot pay. However, despite the act of providing pro bono legal services being entrenched in the Indian legal system, it remains an unregulated, ad hoc practice, which is contingent upon a lawyer’s personal preferences and beliefs.

Seeking legal recourse can be daunting, especially for those with limited resources and information; it is usually complex, time-consuming, and expensive. Most individuals and organisations in India do not have the financial means or knowledge to consider approaching a lawyer. Even lawyers themselves may face challenges while providing pro bono legal services. These include financial constraints, absence of a culture of supporting pro bono activities in law firms, lack of infrastructure, difficulty finding sources that require legal services, bureaucracy, and long lead-times due to court and regulatory processes.

While pro bono has not been a point of mainstream discourse in Indian society, there is still something to cheer about. Statistics suggest that the number of beneficiaries of pro bono in the past five years has surpassed the collective total of beneficiaries between 1987 to 2017[3]. Furthermore, the avenues for providing pro bono assistance are no longer limited to representing people in court. Lawyers are now advising individuals and non-governmental organisations on matters such as legal compliance, structuring and funding, among others. Evidently, growing awareness of the necessity of legal counsel, assistance of organisations that connect people in need with lawyers, and the ubiquity of inexpensive internet are catalysts spurring pro bono in India.

Also, the coronavirus pandemic brought to light several examples of how pro bono efforts make a difference. During the pandemic, the legal fraternity made efforts to adapt to the developing situation and ensured pro bono did not come to a halt. Law firms and lawyers aligned to share free legal resources, such as precedents, books, training materials and repositories on coronavirus related regulatory measures. Various lawyer forums were established across India to act pro bono for employees unduly terminated due to the pandemic, small-scale businesses defaulting on contractual obligations due to supply-chain disruptions, tenants who had postponed rent payments, deferment on various bills accrued  during this period, and so on.

Of course, the work is not close to done. Similar efforts must be made on a continuous basis to ensure that the growing demand for free legal aid is met[4]. However, observing recent events, we are optimistic that a conducive environment for pro bono is developing in India.

[1] Article 39 A.

[2] Made by the Bar Council of India under Section 49(1 )(c) of the Advocates Act, 1961.


[4] More than 80% of India’s 1.3 billion people are eligible for legal aid. But only 15 million have benefitted from it since NALSA was established in 1995. https://theprint.in/opinion/nalsa-was-supposed-to-be-indias-beacon-for-legal-aid-but-its-stuck-in-a-systemic-rut/807587/

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