The advent of the Legal Practice Act (LPA) gives the South African legal community a golden opportunity to look at pro bono with fresh eyes. Each of the four law societies in South Africa has a pro bono requirement of its members. Understandably at the outset a rather conservative approach needed to be taken in determining what qualified as pro bono work. Now, with a wealth of experience behind us, those of us working fulltime in the pro bono arena can share our experiences with those who will be responsible for fleshing out what ‘community service’ (as provided for the LPA) looks like. The term pro bono comes from the Latin pro bono publico, meaning ‘for the public good’. That spirit needs to be augmented in the formulation of the new rules. At its core, pro bono is about philanthropy and altruism. A genuine pro bono culture can only be sustained if built on these twin pillars.
Just as legal practices come in many shapes and forms, so too should pro bono. Large legal practices are in the privileged position of being able to take on bigger matters that address human and socio-economic rights or systemic issues or that impact a group of people or a sector of society. Social entrepreneurship is a steadily growing global phenomenon and in need of and deserving of pro bono legal assistance. Again, something larger legal practices have the resources to address. Smaller legal practices are well placed to assist individuals with their legal needs. One thing we can be sure of, demand for pro bono legal services will always outstrip supply. Our challenge is to find ways to best address the vast need for pro bono legal services. Adopting a broader approach to pro bono is the obvious place to start.