A new legal charity, LawWorks Scotland, which officially launches today, Thursday 10 March, aims to increase access to pro bono - or free - legal services for members of the public.
The new charity, which has been set up by solicitors and other stakeholders from the charity sector with support from the Law Society of Scotland, will co-ordinate and develop provision of pro bono legal services in Scotland to help people who cannot afford to pay for legal advice.
Lord Advocate, The Rt Hon Elish Angiolini QC, who has long been a supporter of the legal profession's pro bono efforts, will be announced as the charity's first patron at a launch event at Edinburgh's Parliament House.
The Lord Advocate, the Rt Hon Elish Angiolini QC, said: "I regard the introduction of LawWorks in Scotland as a welcome step forward by the legal profession and am delighted to accept the honour of becoming the organisation's first patron, when I step down from office in May.
"As lawyers, we must all share responsibility for helping to widen access to justice to ensure no-one is denied professional legal advice due to lack of funds.
"In today's economic climate, more so than ever, people are facing challenges in housing, employment, health issues and other social problems. Affording legal advice is even more difficult than normal. While pro bono legal services are never a substitute for Legal Aid, they are invaluable in helping to ensure that people are treated fairly and have their rights respected."
Jamie Millar, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "The Society is very supportive of LawWorks Scotland. Providing pro bono legal advice to those who need it is a deep rooted tradition within the Scottish legal profession and I'm sure that LawWorks Scotland will be welcomed by the profession and public alike."
Ian Moffett, chairman of LawWorks Scotland, said: "We're delighted to have the Lord Advocate as LawWorks Scotland patron and for all the support we've had from the Law Society and solicitors themselves.
"There are already many Scottish solicitors and firms providing pro bono legal services however, many more would like to but are not quite sure how to get involved. We want to encourage more lawyers to take part and help put them in contact with those most in need. LawWorks Scotland will act as a 'clearing house' for those lawyers who wish to do pro bono work. They'll be able to register with us and we can set them up with front line advice agencies such as Citizens Advice Bureau Scotland, law centres and university law clinics.
"It's all about making things as straightforward as possible for solicitors who want to take part and we take care of things like training, terms of engagement forms, and insurance so that those who wish to help are not tied up in red tape.
"We've had a great response so far, with law firms such as Shepherd and Wedderburn, Burness, Turcan Connell and Sturrock Armstrong and Thomson and solicitors in Edinburgh-based company Cairn Energy already signed up with us. It's a very encouraging start and I hope many more Scottish lawyers will chose to take part. While we will operate as an independent charity, we have the support of the long established LawWorks in London - almost every major law firm in England and Wales is a member of Law Works and we want to see the same thing happen in Scotland.
LawWorks Scotland is managed by a Board of Trustees, made up of representatives of the various sector of the legal profession, universities, the Law Society of Scotland and advice agencies. The Board of Trustees will also be responsible for promoting its activities to the profession and universities more broadly in order to sign up members and to bring in funds. Day to day running of LWS will operate from administrative premises, provided free of charge by the Law Society of Scotland.
The Board is presently made up of the following:
Ian Moffett, Anderson Strathern (Chair)
Prof. Donald Nicholson, University of Strathclyde
Gillian Carty, Shepherd + Wedderburn
Jane McLeod, Scottish Government
Paul White, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations