The team get anti-social about social responsibility
“Well I think it should be compulsory,” said Clara.
Miranda nearly blew a cloud of half-munched rice cakes over her desk. “Compulsory???” she echoed, wondering if she had managed to inject quite enough question-marks into the exclamation.
“God, Clara, you’re completely off it this time,” said Fiona.
“Fi, you’re a litigator,” said Clara. Fiona winced at the hated contraction of her name, which she knew Clara only did to wind her up, and was doubly-irritated that the receptionist succeeded every time in so doing. “You are just imagining yourself stuck night after night in a law centre in Haringey or, heaven forbid, a police station, defending some little toe-rag in a dodgy Arsenal tracksuit who’s knocked-off the local Asian grocer.”
Fiona, for once, had no response. That was pretty much exactly what she’d been thinking.
“And you’d be consoling some weeping dinner-lady and thinking you’re getting bean-juice on your rather gorgeous new Karen Millen,” Clara continued, rounding on Miranda, who was taken totally off guard by Clara’s compliment for her new suit.
“But compulsory pro bono,” moaned Miranda, as if the Lord Chancellor was sat at the desk telling her he was going to implement it tomorrow. “Half the point is that it’s for charity, for a good cause and all that…”
“The Legal Aid budget has been cut to pieces,” said Clara. “Now you can only get it if you’re the fraudulent director of a carpet company who’s put his executive mansion in the wife’s name, or an asylum-seeking hook-handed lunatic. But if every solicitor in the country…”
“…and barrister,” said Fiona, almost immediately realising she’d probably just helped Clara’s argument.
“…and barrister, yes, thank you!” crowed Clara triumphantly. “If every lawyer were made to do, ooh, say ten hours a month, or you could stack it up and do weeks or months at a time, then justice in this country would look quite different.”
“But lots of lawyers do lots of pro bono,” said Miranda. She was still toying with her PC instinct to pick Clara up on the “hook-handed lunatic” reference, but eventually thought better of it.
“Yes, and most do none at all. It would be a good discipline for the people doing it and save millions along the way,” concluded Clara. “And it would mean lawyers – all lawyers – paying something back into the establishment which has sheltered them for hundreds of years.”
“Doctors have been sheltered too,” said Fiona.
“I don’t think you can compare Legal Aid to the NHS,” said Clara, heading off Fiona’s next argument at the pass. The girl would have made a decent litigator, Fiona thought.
“Well I don’t see why we should subsidise government,” said Miranda. “Why should we plug the gap in the Legal Aid budget?”
“I bet you voted for them,” said Clara.
Miranda flushed. “For whom I voted has nothing to do with this, it’s the principle of the thing.”
“People are being denied legal representation,” said Clara. “Any doctor would help someone dying in the street regardless of whether they were going to get paid for it.”
“You do sort of have a point,” said Fiona.
“Don’t encourage her!” snapped Miranda, regaining a little of her backbone.
“It was just an idea,” said Clara casually. “I guess I’ll have to leave it to you ladies to decide how you want to make your pro bono contribution.”
“But…I…” Miranda trailed off. Damn her, she’d won. Miranda had never done a stick of pro bono work in her career.
“There’s a great women’s law centre in Stoke Newington,” said Clara. “Should I give them your number?”
Fiona laughed. “Give them both our numbers.”