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The pro bono legal system in Slovakia has been steadily attracting more interest from the state, NGOs and law firms since 2005, when the country adopted a legal framework to provide free legal aid to those unable to pay for private services.
The framework established the Centre of Legal Aid, a state-funded organisation under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice. The centre provides legal aid in certain specific areas - including civil, family, labour and asylum law - free of charge to people who qualify based on their income, or for a small fee.
Lawyers sign up to offer their services voluntarily by subscribing to a list run by the Slovak Bar Association, and are reimbursed for their work on a limited basis directly through the centre.
In recent years, NGOs have also become more active in the sphere of free legal aid. In May 2011, the Pontis Foundation, together with law firms Allen & Overy, White & Case and Kinstellar, launched a unique programme called “Pro Bono Attorneys”, which aims to give non-profit organisations and their clients from marginalised and at-risk communities an opportunity to ask for free legal help.
Currently, 13 major Slovak and international law firms and five individual lawyers are taking part in the programme, which has provided free help to more than 85 non-profit organizations in almost 130 legal matters.
In addition, the Pontis Foundation organises an annual Pro Bono Marathon that unites volunteers from a range of sectors - advertising agencies, law firms, IT firms and business consultants - for one day during the year when they collaborate and assist NGOs with pre-defined assignments.
Other pro bono legal aid is offered on a more ad hoc basis around the capital, Bratislava, where the offices of all the international law firms operating in Slovakia are based. But the pro bono culture is also spreading out of the city, to the provinces and beyond.