* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Though legal pro bono services in general are becoming increasingly popular in Bulgaria in recent years, the country’s legal industry still has a long way to go in cultivating a strong pro bono culture that can measure up to the one in CEE and the US.
The issue does not lie with the legislation, as some people from the industry claim. The Bulgarian legislation does indeed encourage pro bono work. Although the Act on Bar sets certain minimum fee rates for legal services and prescribes disciplinary punishment for any professional who works below these fee rates, it does stipulate a freedom for any lawyer to give free legal service to those who need assistance but have no or insufficient means to afford it. In addition, if certain conditions are met, indigent people are entitled also to free legal assistance from a state-paid lawyer.
Despite this lack of legislative hurdles, there are still quite few law firms in Bulgaria that can boast that they take on pro bono cases regularly. Perhaps the reason why is that the majority of law firms on the market are local ones, and choose to invest only in one-off donations of food or clothes for orphanages at ‘traditional times for charity’ at Christmas and Easter. There are only a few examples of firms that have started and maintain sustainable long-term partnerships with NGOs or that support a pro-bono cause in a tangible way. Such examples include the CMS Cameron McKenna partnership with the Cedar Foundation and the Kinstellar partnership with Teach for Bulgaria, the NGO fighting for equal access to quality education for every child in Bulgaria. The Kinstellar partnership with Teach for Bulgaria includes not only legal pro bono work but also support in fundraising events, and raising awareness about their mission in general.
While the few international firms operating in Bulgaria have the pro bono credo in their corporate culture and can introduce best practices, most Bulgarian law firms do not seem to have any pro bono or community investment strategies and do not proactively foster such activities among their employees, as can be seen from their websites or other communication channels starved of any information about such activity. Yet, the need for legal pro bono in Bulgaria is vast and the potential for growth in pro bono services is huge, as the country enjoys a considerable and an ever increasing number of social entrepreneurship in almost every part of the society.