Lawyers in many countries provide some of their services pro bono so that low-income people may have access to justice. Both well-established professionals looking to enhance their reputation and new lawyers trying to earn a name for themselves are likely to contribute pro bono hours as a public service.
By Russian law, free legal aid can be either paid for by the government or provided privately free of charge. People entitled to legal aid include those with incomes below the subsistence level and members of disadvantaged groups, such as minors, pensioners, persons with physical and mental disabilities, war veterans, and some others. However, legal services provided pro bono (from the Latin pro bono publico; for the public good) are not as common in Russia as they are in Europe or the U.S.
He used data from a survey of 3,317 lawyers in 35 Russian regions conducted in 2014 by the HSE Institute for Industrial and Market Studies and the Institute for the Rule of Law at the European University at Saint-Petersburg, with support from the Russian Federal Bar Chamber; the survey used data collected using anonymous self-completed questionnaires returned via regional bar chambers.
Kazun focuses on lawyers who have served as court-appointed defence counsels in criminal proceedings (pursuant to Article 51 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure) and lawyers who have provided legal services pro bono. In the former case, legal services are free for the client and covered by the state at a fixed rate; in the latter case, services are contributed pro bono, i.e. free of charge.
Kazun found that pro bono practice is in widespread in Russia, with 55% of the respondents working pro bono at the time of the survey and another 18% having provided pro bono services before. "Russian lawyers' involvement in pro bono services proved to be higher than we had expected [it is a common assumption that pro bono work is unpopular among Russian lawyers; editor's note]," according to Kazun.
Kazun identifies three main motives behind the provision of legal aid: personally held ethical beliefs and a desire to enhance one's professional reputation for those who contribute pro bono services, and material gain for court-appointed lawyers.
Since the motives differ significantly between court-appointed defence counsels and lawyers working pro bono, different categories of professionals are likely to engage in these two types of legal work; the former tend to be less successful, lower-paid and less connected in the legal community, while the latter are usually sought-after professionals with extensive peer networks.
The study shows that providing legal aid by appointment is not a voluntary contribution but rather an adaptive strategy used by lawyers who have problems finding clients and with professional networking and thus try to make a living by taking up as many government-financed legal aid cases as possible. As a result, such lawyers are often reliant on links with particular courts and dependent on the law enforcement system as their real employer. Kazun's analysis reveals that court-appointed lawyers tend to be younger, without much experience with either corporate or government clients, and often providing services of substandard quality.
According to Kazun, the law enforcement system is in fact interested in maintaining the status quo where many defendants agree to plea bargains, while lawyers are not too tenacious in defending their clients.
In contrast, services contributed pro bono are not driven by financial gain, but rather by reputational motives (with an understanding that a good professional reputation will eventually lead to higher fees) and a desire to build social capital and practice professional ethics. Lawyers working pro bono are more likely to attend events conducted by the Bar Chamber and to be members of professional associations. Just as their European and American peers, Russian lawyers consider pro bono services as a positive contribution to their reputation within the legal community.