What is pro bono?
Nowadays, many law firms undertake pro bono initiatives as a way to give back to the community. According to the UK law society, pro bono work consists of “legal advice or representation provided free of charge by legal professionals in the public interest. This can be to individuals, charities or community groups who cannot afford to pay for legal help and cannot get legal aid or any other means of funding”. Hence, it is an integral part of upholding many key legal values and principles, especially access to justice, as it serves as a way to bridge certain gaps in access to justice, particularly for groups who may not have the funds or resources to receive adequate legal guidance. Given the increasing emphasis placed on pro bono involvement by law firms and the clients they represent, it comes as no surprise that this sector of legal work is gaining traction, whilst the impact of the projects is evident. The various initiatives law firms undertake are often well-explained on their respective websites.
In addition to the positive impacts of pro bono work for pro bono clients, this type of work provides a valuable opportunity for lawyers to exercise skills crucial to success in the legal field. For instance, many pro bono initiatives include client interviewing, research, problem-solving, and/or critical thinking, all of which are highly valuable skills in a legal career and transferable to many other areas. Because a lot of the tasks involve working with clients personally, relationship building is a key component of the job, allowing lawyers to interact with different individuals and organisations to truly make a change. Another reason lawyers may take interest in engaging with pro bono work is that it adds variety to the types of legal projects that they are involved with.
Furthermore, from a firm’s standpoint, pro bono is “an opportunity to showcase a firm’s commitment to justice in front of its commercial clients, many of whom use this as a key metric when deciding which law firms to instruct”. Many law firms have incorporated pro bono initiatives to establish and develop their identity in accordance with their own core values and expertise; most firms now have an established pro bono practice within their culture. For instance, at Allen & Overy, over 51% of lawyers participated in a pro bono initiative during FY21, with over 48,900 hours recorded. Hence, lawyers are often actively involved in pro bono initiatives, and such involvement is highly encouraged by their firm. This shows a heightened awareness of societal needs, as well as a desire to use expertise and resources to make a change and contribute to the community.
Allen & Overy
The variety of Allen & Overy’s pro bono initiatives is extremely wide, from environmental to gender legal advice. For instance, Allen & Overy have two main pro bono areas: access to justice and access to education and employment. They even have their own program called the Smart Start Experience, which gives “young people facing socio-economic barriers access to high quality work experience in the world of business” and aims to support students in kick-starting careers in the legal sector by offering valuable work experience and guidance. It has grown to become an extremely popular experience with many students applying for the scheme.
In addition to this, Allen & Overy also partner with organisations and advise various charities. Allen & Overy, DLA Piper, and Coram Children’s Legal Centre partnered to launch a Children’s Pro Bono Legal Service, the first ever in the UK of its kind. This organisation focuses extensively on helping children gain UK citizenship, which is a big step in assisting them to gain many other rights including access to healthcare, higher education and the right to vote. This program has found much success, as “60 lawyers from A&O and DLA Piper have taken on 57 cases and assisted ten children to gain British Citizenship, with further applications under way”. Hence, it is evident that such projects are highly impactful and can make a difference to the lives of many.
Herbert Smith Freehills
Herbert Smith Freehills also undertake multiple pro bono projects, including the “Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project” and “Sanctuary for Families”. The Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project operates mainly in Australia as a joint project with Justice Connect Homeless Law, and strives to “prevent women and children from being evicted into homelessness, and resolve legal issues stemming from family violence”. The focus is on preventing unfair eviction or homelessness and ensuring that the women and children who come to them have suitable accommodation. It is clear that the project itself has found great success, as it has an 83% success rate for finalised matters, and has helped 102 women with children within the first two years of launching.
Additionally, the Sanctuary for Families project has similarly been supported by Herbert Smith Freehills. For example, the New York office specifically assists those “who are seeking asylum in the USA, supporting them through the process and representing them in court”. The Firm recently undertook a project that involved representing a woman from Ecuador in her application for asylum in the USA. Lawyers involved with the case performed tasks such as “preparing submissions, conducting country conditions research, identifying and retaining a country conditions expert and obtaining corroborating declarations from witnesses”, and won the case.
What does this mean for applicants?
In searching for law firms suited to themselves, applicants may look towards the pro bono projects offered by a firm, especially those who have been actively involved in similar projects prior. Oftentimes, the values and culture behind a law firm's name are reflected in these pro bono projects, and are highly indicative of the projects its current and future lawyers may have the opportunity to engage with.