The scale of pro bono work being done by the profession up and down the country is remarkable. From our own work, we’re celebrating an increase in the number of organisations that have been supported through the LawWorks Not-For-Profits Programme, with hundreds of volunteer solicitors giving thousands of pro bono hours over the last year. The LawWorks Clinics Network continues to grow. Our last report highlighted increases in the number of clinics in the network, the number of volunteers across the networks and the number of clients they support. Nearly 5,000 volunteers gave over 80,000 pro bono hours to support over 53,000 enquiries in the year.
As the demand for pro bono continues to grow (89% of clinics in the network saw an increase in demand for their services last year), these increasing numbers sound like a step in the right direction. But beyond an instinctive reaction that more pro bono work being delivered is surely a good thing, on their own what do these numbers really tell us about what's going on?
Given the finite resources there is a limit to what pro bono can (and should) be able to achieve so it’s important to ensure that it is being used as effectively as possible. That presents a challenge for measurement and data collection, and LawWorks has been addressing this. Whilst numbers, hours, clients, volunteers are relatively easy data sets to collect, it is far harder is to capture the outcomes that those efforts actually achieve.
Building on some initial work conducted with clinic clients in Wales, for the last year LawWorks has been developing a process to capture evidence on the outcomes achieved for pro bono clinic clients. After looking at current practice in clinics and the wider sector, as well as learning from what works well in other sectors, a prototype client outcomes framework and collection process was piloted in late 2016. Clients accessing pro bono advice at four pilot clinics consented to take part in follow up interviews. To maximize the quality of the feedback received the interviews were conducted by a market research agency.
While the interview results provided interesting and insightful feedback for the clinics that took part, the pilot was to test the processes involved rather than collect statistically significant data on client outcomes. Supported by an advisory group of clinic coordinators, we have reflected on the pilot, refining the processes and questions ahead of a roll-out in Autumn 2017. The roll-out will involve hundreds of interviews with clients accessing a random sample of clinics producing, for the first time, robust and representative data on client experience in clinics.
The pilot results have given us a tantalizing glimpse at how valuable full scale data will be, informing not only our understanding of how clients benefit from pro bono support, but more crucially how clinic services could be improved to achieve better results for the clients. The results will help to identify the main barriers and drivers experienced by clients in resolving their legal issues and aspects of clinic support that they found most beneficial. The findings will have obvious practical applications: informing the development of new clinics by building systems that better meet client needs, adapting volunteer training to enhance the elements clients find most helpful, and identifying ways for clinics to be more accessible for those they aim to serve.
The numbers are important. Each volunteer hour is a valuable resource and we’ll continue working with clinics to increase volunteer contributions. What this research will do is help make sure that pro bono efforts are being used as effectively as possible to achieve the best outcomes for clients. A lot of solicitors tell us they want to “give something back” through their volunteering and we are always happy to assist with that. This research will help us to better understand what that something really is and help to make sure it’s something great.
You can find out more information on LawWorks’ Better Information Project pages.
David Raeburn is the Director of Programmes and Deputy CEO at LawWorks, earlier this year he presented a paper called Researching Impact at the International Journal of Clinical Legal Education Conference hosted by Northumbria University in Newcastle.