‘Secondary consults’ or ‘phone a friend’ assistance involves the mentoring of CLC lawyers by pro bono providers. This can occur through formalised arrangements like the provision of community legal education (see Chapter 29 Community legal education) or less formal arrangements where advice or an opinion is sought and provided in a particular area of law or in relation to a particular matter.
It was also suggested that a similar mentoring arrangement could work for small firms wishing to become more involved in pro bono work, but who do not have the resources that lawyers in larger firms have to draw on to assist them when they lack expertise.
I have developed a good connection with a couple of pro bono coordinators at larger firms who have much more experience than I do. I feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking them what they think about a problem I am having internally with my firm’s pro bono practice and their reassurance gives me confidence to take action. (Mid-sized firm pro bono coordinator)
25.1 SECONDARY CONSULTS: AT A GLANCE
Features of effective secondary consults
One CLC executive noted that ‘secondary consults’ are becoming a more significant way for firms to provide assistance to CLCs. ‘There is a relationship between a firm and a CLC where the CLC can ask for advice about a particular issue without disclosing the client. As the advice is de-identified, there is no issue of conflict for the firm.’
A more likely approach than co-counselling is where the CLC uses the firm as a sounding board/lifeline, but remains the sole representative on the record, with responsibility for the matter. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
Mentoring of CLC lawyers is more likely than co-counselling. The CLC tells the firm the facts of the case and asks for an opinion or asks for the firm to review a statement of claim or calls about the matter from time to time to discuss strategy. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
We do not have experience of co-counselling but do provide advice on an ad hoc basis to CLC lawyers who call the firm for information or advice in a particular area of expertise or for a precedent. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Much of this mentoring takes the form of advice provided over the phone, so it is convenient for both partners and can often be obtained at short notice.
Increasingly telephone advice is provided to organisations which represent the target client group. These organisations are clients with whom we have had an ongoing relationship so we will understand their issues. It is no different from our interaction with commercial clients. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Telephone advice is also provided by the firm to CLC or legal aid lawyers in areas that they are not so familiar with eg tax, intellectual property. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
We often use barristers to provide advice over the phone on particular questions of law. (CLC solicitor)
We have longstanding relationships with several specialist practitioners who provide detailed advice to our solicitors but do not take over matters. This enhances the capacity of the CLC staff to handle complex matters and is the most common way for pro bono support to be provided. (CLC solicitor)
Where telephone advice is being provided to a CLC, a firm may be unable to provide one person that can give advice in all the areas where it is sought, due to the specialisation of its lawyers (for example, different people advise on direct tax and indirect tax). One large law firm pro bono coordinator said that CLC lawyers would prefer to deal with just one lawyer at the firm. ‘There can be frustrations when a CLC lawyer has to speak to many different firm lawyers and explain the matter and the role of the CLC to each.’
A firm may not be able to respond within the timeframe required by the CLC, so it only works in a relationship where the CLC understands the firm’s time and resource constraints. (Mid-sized law firm pro bono coordinator)
Brooke Massender, Pro Bono Counsel at Herbert Smith Freehills, notes that the firm often assists with mentoring of CLCs via community legal education or training, is always open to new relationships and would encourage CLCs to ask for assistance. ‘We welcome any contact and requests from CLCs and do our best to assist where we can.’