The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
November 29, 2011

Pro Bono Takes Berlin

This month, several hundred leaders representing bar associations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), law schools, law firms, and in-house legal departments from around the world descended upon Berlin to convene around a compelling common interest: pro bono  and The PBEye was there!  PILnet Founder and Executive Director Ed Rekosh (more from Ed here)  told participants of PILnet’s fifth annual European Pro Bono Forum, “Your presence here is evidence that pro bono has arrived in Europe, and indeed is spreading around the world.” 

Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz Berlin

At a time when no state’s legal aid budget has escaped the global economic crisis unscathed, civic-minded legal professionals from countries that have traditionally regarded access to justice as strictly a state responsibility explored what role pro bono can play in helping to ensure that access to justice is not decimated.  Invoking the renowned words of William Booth, Oxfam Great Britain’s General Counsel Joss Saunders asked Forum participants, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?”  Why, indeed?

According to Forum Co-chairs Anne Force and Jan Hegemann, “Increasingly, law firms and individual lawyers across Europe are rising to [the] challenge through pro bono projects, offering vital assistance to NGOs and support for their humanitarian missions . . . [There is] a growing recognition in the legal community of what pro bono can accomplish nationally and internationally.”  European pro bono leaders are beginning to embrace the notion that pro bono service also plays a key role in bolstering public perceptions about the legal profession and confidence in the justice system.  Panelists urged practitioners to eschew “glamor pro bono” in favor of the less glamorous pro bono work that meets critical legal needs.

Multinational and national firms, in-house attorneys and solo practitioners from forty countries shared innovative projects and partnerships, and explored new ways to harness pro bono power for the public benefit.  Bar representatives from various European jurisdictions proclaimed their commitment to the principle that access to justice is a fundamental human right and highlighted their efforts to institutionalize pro bono culture in their respective legal communities.

A workshop on business and human rights underscored the emerging international consensus that law firms and corporations have a responsibility to honor human rights, through pro bono service and corporate social responsibility, but also in the way they conduct their everyday business and law practice.  A4ID Executive Director Yasmin Batliwala introduced the NGO’s November 2011 discussion paper, Law Firms’ Implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights.  The Guiding Principles, a product of a pro bono partnership between Clifford Chance and U.N. Special Representative John Ruggie, were adopted earlier this year by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Saunders challenged Forum participants from as far away as Sydney, Johannesburg, and Beijing to raise the pro bono banner, saying, “Pro bono is the right thing to do, it’s a career move, it makes better lawyers, and it has a multiplier effect.”  Then, quoting an African proverb in support of his plug for pro bono, Saunders added puckishly, “Corn cannot expect justice from a court made up of chickens.”

Touché, Mister Saunders – The PBEye hopes attendant legal professionals will heed his rousing (if slightly unconventional) call to action!

Were you in Berlin?  Drop us a comment, below, and tell us what inspired you at this year’s PILnet Forum . . .

One Response to Pro Bono Takes Berlin

  1. Julia Alanen says:

    PILnet’s session on European In-House Pro Bono, moderated by GE’s Alex Turton, was particularly inspiring – standing-room-only!