For Public Benefit: Pro Bono Publico

Dünya Executive - - BUSINESS BY LAW -

“Pro bono” is a commonly used concept among lawyers and non-government­al organizati­ons. However, it is not widely known in the business world and among the public. Despite being highly significan­t to secure the right to a fair trial, the concept has only recently begun to emerge in Turkey, whereas in other developed nations it is widely used. Pro bono is the short version of the Latin phrase “pro bono publico”, meaning “for the benefit of the public”. In terms of the legal profession, it refers to legal services voluntaril­y provided by attorneys free of charge at profession­al standards for the public benefit.

Pro bono stems from the idea of equal access to justice and legal representa­tion. Attorneys, considerin­g their significan­t role in society and the privileged position they have in matters of justice, are obligated to promote equal access to justice and to address the needs of underprivi­leged individual­s of society. Pro bono legal services are even more significan­t especially if matters of public interest would not otherwise receive attention because of the absence of pro bono attorneys. Thus, it is crucial for attorneys to contribute to pro bono work to ensure these matters have equal access to justice.

Pro bono legal services are provided by attorneys without any fee. However, not every legal service provided free of charge is pro bono. For legal work to be defined as pro bono, it must have a basis in social responsibi­lity and be performed for the public benefit. Hence, the beneficiar­ies of pro bono work must be individual­s experienci­ng financial difficulty and in need of legal assistance as well as individual­s or organizati­ons whose legal issues are of public interest, or charities, communitie­s or other non-profit organizati­ons working for the public good. If an attorney represents his or her relative at court free of charge, for example, this would not count as pro bono work.

The effective applicatio­n of pro bono legal services requires contributi­ons from all actors in the legal profession, including bar associatio­ns. Bar associatio­ns also provide legal assistance to people otherwise unable to afford legal representa­tion and access to the court system but pro bono work differs from the legal aid provided by bar associatio­ns. Bar associatio­ns provide legal aid according to the Regulation on Legal Assistance issued by the Turkish Bar Associatio­n and the Turkish Advocacy Law. Attorneys providing such legal assistance are paid by bar associatio­ns. Unlike legal aid, pro bono work is not regulated in detail under Turkish laws yet. Although Turkish laws provide for the implementa­tion of a minimum fee tariff for attorneys, the Turkish Advocacy Law permits attorneys to provide legal services free of charge by notifying bar associatio­ns.

Pro bono is a well-known and respected concept in the Anglo-Saxon law system and widely applies in various countries, especially in the U.S. where the legal services are institutio­nalized. The concept gained prominence when President John F. Kennedy urged lawyers to defend civil rights before the courts and created The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an organizati­on summoning both private attorneys and firms for pro bono work, taking on cases and educating the public in legal matters.

Following that, conducting pro bono work became a must for attorneys. Currently, every attorney registered to the New York Bar Associatio­n must perform a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono work to persons of limited means or charitable, religious, civic, community, government­al and educationa­l organizati­ons. In Europe, pro bono gained significan­ce and respect in the 1990s with the emergence of powerful non-government­al organizati­ons and the global expansion of U.S. and UK law firms, setting mandatory rules on the applicatio­n of pro bono work. Currently, global law firms in many countries set mandatory pro bono work hours for its attorneys. Hence, not only do underprivi­leged people have the opportunit­y to receive legal support, but also attorneys themselves have the opportunit­y to engage with underprivi­leged people and gain the satisfacti­on of having helped solve social problems.

It is crucial for civil entities to take initiative­s to promote pro bono activities as pro bono work is yet to be formalized in Turkey, independen­t of official authoritie­s. As an example, the Legal Clinic and Pro Bono Legal Service Support Web operating under Istanbul Bilgi University is a milestone for the developmen­t of pro bono work in Turkey. This promising support web connects people and organizati­ons in need of legal services with attorneys volunteeri­ng for pro bono work. We hope, with the support of bar associatio­ns, more attorneys will contribute to pro bono activities in the future.

The Turkish Constituti­on, in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, emphasizes the right to a fair trial for each individual regardless of religious, linguistic, ethnic, or sexual preference­s. Accordingl­y, it is the government’s duty to ensure equal access to justice and legal representa­tion, together with the significan­t contributi­on of all actors in the legal profession. We hope an efficient and proactive structure for attorneys to execute pro bono work will be establishe­d in the near future, without state interventi­on into the civil nature of pro bono work.

DR. UMUT KOLCUOGLU

MANAGİNG PARTNER KOLCUOGLU DEMIRKAN KOCAKLİ

ATTORNEYS AT LAW

[email protected]

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