PRO BONO FAIL: Law Firms Outnumber Cases As Law Soc’s Riot Help Scheme Flops

EXCLUSIVE: It wasn’t just kids in Tottenham and Hackney who got carried away during last summer’s London riots. Law Society President John Wotton found himself rather swept up in events, too.

“Over the coming months, the victims will need practical help to get their businesses or personal lives back on track,” said a statesman-like Wotton in August as he launched a ‘Riot Helpline’ to refer riot victims to lawyers working for free. “The Law Society has been calling on the profession to provide pro bono assistance to help meet the demand…and [I] urge others to join the movement,” he added.

Not only was this pro bono assistance secured, but money was obtained from a host of top City law firms to fund a full-time caseworker to staff the Riot Helpline for a whole year.

What happened next?

Well, the caseworker waited. And waited. And eventually got moved to other duties. During the last seven months just 11 cases have been referred to the 12 law firms signed up to provide legal advice to those affected by the riots. That’s 0.9 cases per firm.

When asked about this by Legal Cheek, Law Society chief executive Des Hudson chose first to reflect on the goodness lawyers have shown throughout the history of mankind: “Since time immemorial the legal profession has reached beyond professional requirements to embrace social responsibility,” he explained.

Eventually, Hudson added: “While the volume of calls was lower than anticipated, I am sure this was the right thing to do.”

For riot victims, or indeed anyone who just fancies a chat, the Law Society’s Riot Helpline (020 7092 3949) will remain open for a further five months.