FLAC project launches impact report on ten years of promoting public interest law

13 October 2020

PILA Impact Report 2009-2019

FLAC project, PILA (Public Interest Law Alliance) is today launching an impact report highlighting some of the positive change achieved through the project over a decade and renewing its call to give lawyers the tools they need to fight to improve the lives of those on the margins.

The report ‘Challenging Injustice, Championing Change: PILA Impact Report 2009-2019 will be launched at an online event where over 50 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will learn more about how to tackle pressing social issues through accessing pro bono legal services.

The PILA project was established by FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) in 2009 to promote public interest law in order to extend the reach of the law to those who are marginalised and disadvantaged. PILA supports a diverse network of stakeholders interested in growing the practice of law in the public interest, with particular emphasis on combining the legal needs of NGOs with the expertise of lawyers.

Central to PILA’s work is fostering a culture of pro bono work and commitment to public interest law in the legal community, in order to provide free legal supports to community, voluntary and social justice organisations that work directly with vulnerable groups. Through its Pro Bono Referral Scheme, 310 NGOs have received pro bono support through 800 legal advice and litigation matters and 45 law reform working groups. Some 2000 NGO staff have also received training in the law relevant to their clients and services through 85 legal education sessions.

While corporate governance, contracts and data protection ranked highly amongst issues affecting NGOs, the most common societal concerns referred to PILA were in the areas of housing and homelessness, migration and disability rights. The report details a number of success stories, including recognition of employment rights for au pairs, the passing of the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018, and the right to a secret ballot for people who are visually impaired.

In turn, almost 40 law firms with 2000 solicitors, over 350 barristers and in-house legal teams from 5 large multinational companies have committed to deliver expert pro bono support across a range of issues.Within a relatively short time period, the pro bono culture in Ireland has shifted to such a degree that two corporate law firms have hired dedicated pro bono associates and there is a notable growing interest from in-house legal teams.

A key development demonstrating a shifting attitude to structured pro bono within law firms has been the rise of the ‘Impact Project’ which sees PILA partner a law firm with an NGO and train lawyers in an area outside of their expertise. These projects have provided advice and representation to 650 individuals, and have brought new playersto the access to justice are on issues such as homelessness, asylum and domestic violence.

“While pro bono legal work cannot and should not replace an adequately funded system of civil legal aid, it has proved vital in addressing the unmet legal need of those left behind by the current justice system. Ten years has shown that by bringing together NGOs and lawyers under the common thread of public interest law, the law can be used in new and exciting ways for the benefit of under-served communities.” – Eilis Barry, FLAC Chief Executive.

One of PILA’s main objectives is to highlight and seek to overcome the barriers to litigating in the public interest. The project undertakes research, raises awareness and campaigns for a wider understanding of and the removal of barriers, such as legal costs, standing rules, mootness, lack of class actions and the non-justiciability of socio-economic rights.

Speaking ahead of the launch, PILA Strategic and Development Manager, Rachel Power said:

“Public interest law goes to the heart of communities and to the heart of the human issues that matter to us most. Dismantling the barriers to public interest law will continue to be a key part of our work over the next decade. We believe that introducing measures like multi-party actions, relaxing the laws on standing to allow NGOs bring actions on behalf of their clients and developing the use of protective costs orders would go a long way towards ensuring our lawyers have the tools needed to effectively fight to improve the lives of the most marginalised and disadvantaged in our courts.”

Editors’ notes:

  1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line (1890 350 250). Free legal advice is available from volunteer lawyers through a countrywide network of advice clinics (these clinics are currently conducted over the phone) – more at FLAC provides legal representation in a small number of cases in the public interest. FLAC provides legal advice directly to members of both the Roma Community and the Irish Traveller Community via specialist legal clinics. FLAC engages in policy work in areas of law that most impact on disadvantaged groups and including consumer credit, personal debt, and fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid. It operates the public interest law project PILA.
  2. PILA (Public Interest Law Alliance), a project of FLAC, is a public interest law network that seeks to engage the legal community and civil society in using the law to advance social change. It operates a pro bono referral scheme for social justice organisations in Ireland – read more at PILA was established through a grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies. In 2020, PILA is supported by, amongst others, its Sustaining Partners: A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox and McCann Fitzgerald.
  3. Public interest law is the law that goes to the very core of our society – affecting the rights, well-being, health, or finances of our people as a whole – but, most commonly, the law that advocates for those who are disadvantaged or marginalised. PILA promotes a healthy environment for public interest law to develop through championing pro bono legal work, promoting public interest litigation, supporting clinical legal education, and growing its alliance.
  4. PILA’s Pro Bono Referral Scheme provides social justice organisations with pro bono legal assistance where they do not have resources or in-house expertise. Organisations access legal support across five strands: legal advice, law reform working groups, strategic litigation, Impact Projects and legal training.
  5. The report will be launched at an online event, ‘Pro Bono: A Tool for Challenging Injustice and Championing Change’, at 10am on Tuesday 13 October 2020. PILA will be joined by a panel of NGO leaders who will each share how they have successfully boosted their impact through accessing PILA’s Pro Bono Referral Scheme. These will include: Damien Walshe (CEO of Independent Living Movement Ireland), Edel McGinley (CEO of Migrants Rights Centre Ireland), Rebecca Keatinge (Managing Solicitor of Mercy Law Resource Centre), Robbie Sinnott (Coordinator of Voice of Vision Impairment) and Tanya Ward (CEO of Children’s Rights Alliance). A recording of the event can be viewed here.
  6. The PILA Impact Report is available to read in full at