Legal professionals should unite to perform coordinated pro bono work, says Bijesh Thakker
When I was about to start work as a lawyer, my father – himself a lawyer – asked me: “Are you joining the practice of law as a profession or as a business?” He went on to advise, “If it is the latter, go and do any business, but don’t practise law.”
Today law is both a profession and a business, but the obligation to help in the broader work of administering justice to all remains an integral part of this vocation. As a group, lawyers should give more time and formal attention to this obligation than they do at present.
While lawyers and law firms in India are increasingly meeting global standards in terms of work quality, their commitment to social responsibility is difficult to evaluate. Many lawyers across the country do engage in regular pro bono activity on an individual basis, but few make this information public. The legal aid movement – an attempt to encourage the provision of legal assistance for the impoverished – was enacted in India through the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, but the work done under its banner remains unorganized and sporadic.
Perhaps there is no need to change the “anonymous donor” mentality, or to measure and record acts of social responsibility on the public record – as long as the pro bono spirit is nurtured and awareness is spread, encouraging everyone in the legal profession to participate in this common goal. As Tata group chairman Ratan Tata commented on corporate social responsibility initiatives, “We do not do it for propaganda. We do not do it for publicity. We do it for the satisfaction of having really achieved something worthwhile.”
Bijesh Thakker is the managing partner of Thakker & Thakker, a law firm based in Mumbai. He currently supports Reach to Teach, a charity which provides education to children in India; Reach Education Action Programme, a literacy movement for empowerment; and SMART, a 20-acre eco-park that is being created near Mumbai, by Thakker & Thakker, to teach children about ecology.