* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In Turkey, law firms and individual lawyers as well as Bar Associations provide free legal services whether as pro bono or under a legal aid scheme. Legal aid is provided to natural persons by the relevant Bars once such individuals prove that they are not able to afford legal services. However, in this case of legal aid, lawyers are paid by the government according to the minimum tariffs published by the Turkish Bar Association. Pro bono services by law firms are mainly delivered to legal entities such as NGOs and other institutions in the form of assisting them with the establishment process, legal drafting and providing other legal advice when required, as well as assisting such institutions and natural persons with their legal claims.
Unfortunately, both pro bono and legal aid are rarely practised concepts in Turkey. The main reasons for this are a lack of a tradition of community work and social trust, the culture of reciprocation, as well as a ban on advertising for lawyers. These reasons also constitute restrictions for development of pro bono.
Our own firm’s experience relating to pro bono services suggests to us that there is an initial scepticism amongst individuals regarding voluntary work provided by lawyers. Our own pro bono clients state that they could not believe why we assist them on a voluntary basis and this scepticism prevents them from trusting us. The culture of reciprocation also presents some obstacles for providing pro bono services, as pro bono clients tend to offer some kind of reciprocation, whether in the form of a success fee or something else they are able to offer.
The ban on advertising for lawyers and law firms is another main reason for limited engagement in pro bono, which is also restricting the development of an ecosystem to provide free legal advice. Since there is a ban, lawyers cannot advertise to potential pro bono clients which indirectly limits the development of a tradition of community work in the legal field. In order to overcome the issue on reaching potential pro bono clients and improve tradition of community work and social trust, pro bono networks have been established in Turkey. Two of the more active pro bono networks are Bilgi University Human Rights Center and Carma (Care Move Act). These networks team up NGOs and individuals with law firms and lawyers by organizing events and arranging communication between pro bono providers and beneficiaries.
In the light of the above, it can be stated that there is an inevitable need to improve practice of free legal services in Turkey. However, with the effort and ambition of pro bono networks and especially young lawyers who are not just demanding financial rewards and status but are also eager for some sort of purpose in their lives, the increase in awareness of pro bono services and development of social trust amongst citizens can be expected in the near future.