Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Pro bono in South Africa

During 2002, the members of the Cape Law Society (including attorneys in the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape), unanimously adopted a resolution giving rise to a rule obliging all practising lawyers (with one or two exceptions) to render a minimum of 24 hours pro bono service to those who cannot afford to pay legal fees.

Following this, the Cape Law Society concluded joint venture agreements (and continues to do so) with NGOs serving the poor who required free legal assistance on behalf of the people they serve or, in certain circumstances, assistance to the NGOs itself.

The law societies with jurisdiction in other provinces in South Africa (the Free State Law Society, Law Society of the Northern Provinces and KwaZulu Natal Law Society) all adopted similar rules, with KwaZulu Natal being the last province to consider whether or not the rule should be made obligatory.

The provincial law societies have all appointed provincial co-ordinators, and the Law Society of South Africa has appointed a national co-ordinator to facilitate the process of pro bono nationally. We are currently working towards convening a national conference with the view to establishing a rule to set in place national norms and standards for pro bono.

Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs ('ENS') is the largest law firm in Africa, with offices in Cape Town, Gauteng (Johannesburg) and KwaZulu Natal (Durban). ENS is currently the only firm in South Africa to establish dedicated pro bono offices.

Its first pro bono office is in the township called Mitchell's Plain, an impoverished area in the Western Cape, where ENS renders services to the communities of Khayelitsha and Mitchell's Plain.

Its second dedicated pro bono office is in the township of Alexandra in Gauteng, with the aim of bridging the historical divide that exists between suburbs such as Alex and Sandton, two very different worlds.

Both offices are managed by qualified lawyers, and every professional of the firm dedicates 32 hours per year rendering services to the poor on their doorstep, rather than expecting them to find their (often impossible) way to Cape Town or Sandton.

Posted by
Taswell Papier
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

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