On June 15, thousands of people from around the world descended on a field in Runnymede in the United Kingdom to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. Although the Magna Carta was not the first time a monarch agreed to respect the rights and liberties of others, it went on to become an icon for the revolutionary concepts of due process and the rule of law. As British Prime Minister David Cameron noted at the commemoration, “Think of South Africa – of that courtroom in Rivonia. As Nelson Mandela stood in the dock, looking at a lifetime in prison, it was Magna Carta that he cited.”
How can pro bono attorneys contribute to the vision being discussed and celebrated this week? One answer is rule of law themed pro bono projects, particularly in post-conflict countries. A noteworthy example is a recently completed project in Liberia, in which Thomson Reuters Corporation** teamed up with Linklaters*†‡ and the nonprofit organization Lawyers Without Borders (LWOB).
As the country struggled to recover from the political upheaval and civil wars that occurred under former president Charles Taylor, Liberia’s legal system was additionally challenged by a lack of access to case law precedent in a readily usable format. To remedy this, LWOB secured seed project underwriting from the World Bank, publishing support from Thomson Reuters, and volunteer lawyers from Linklaters to produce a digest of case summaries and key-word index of over 3,700 Liberian cases beginning in the 1860s. This five-year project involved a cross-disciplinary team of over 200 Linklaters lawyers, trainees, and summer associates, from offices in New York, London, Dubai, Hong Kong, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, and Paris. Thomson Reuters Corporation helped organize the case digest structure and printed hard copies of the digest and index; these have now been provided to every judge in Liberia. Making such information readily available in a meaningful way should help improve the efficacy and consistency of legal governance in Liberia, although electricity and internet connectivity issues have delayed the longer-term goal of making the digest and index available online.
The work of the Magna Carta is not yet done. But pro bono attorneys and other legal professionals are working to realize its vision in Liberia and elsewhere: a world governed by the rule of law. We will stay tuned!
* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
‡ New York office only participating in Challenge