The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
February 24, 2021

Global Pro Bono: Resources, Projects, and Partnerships

In recent decades, there has been an uptick of interest among law firms and legal departments to expand pro bono engagement by lawyers and legal staff in countries across the globe.[1]  A variety of factors have led to this, including growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility, globalization of the legal profession, greater international emphasis on human rights and access to justice, increasing awareness of economic and social inequities, newly emerging democracies, and newly formed entities that support pro bono engagement.  According to the 2020 Benchmarking Survey from the PBI® Corporate Pro Bono project, 35 percent of in-house legal departments indicated that they already engage in global pro bono work, and law firms around the globe are engaging their volunteers in pro bono. While pro bono services are well developed in many places, there are also many countries around the world where pro bono work is either nonexistent or in a nascent stage. Utilizing appropriate resources and learning from past or current global projects is beneficial to the success of increased pro bono engagement.

Global Pro Bono Survey

Pro Bono Institute, in partnership with Latham & Watkins*, published the latest edition of the Global Pro Bono Survey in early 2020, with the goal of stimulating the growth and expansion of pro bono initiatives around the world. For law firms, in-house legal departments, and individual lawyers, the Global Pro Bono Survey is valuable guidance for how to engage in pro bono work in different countries. One useful aspect of the Global Pro Bono Survey is the Survey Summary Chart, which outlines pro bono requirements in 86 worldwide jurisdictions. This chart provides answers to questions regarding minimum pro bono requirements, specific pro bono licenses, legal practice regulations, professional indemnity insurance, pro bono advertising rules, and receiving “Continuing Legal Education” for pro bono services. For lawyers, firms, or organizations interested in additional information about the pro bono practices and culture in a given country, the survey also includes detailed, country-specific reports. Without an informative resource like this, it can be difficult for lawyers new to pro bono within a region to navigate the varying policies, qualifications, and practices for pro bono involvement.   

Numerous Law Firm Pro Bono Project® members provide important pro bono legal services throughout their global footprints. Firms such as DLA Piper*and White & Case*, as well as many others, have expanded their pro bono services beyond the United States.  The same is true for many large corporations with global reach, such as the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (BNY)**.  The following examples, discussing pro bono programs in, Zambia, Greece, and the United Kingdom, only begin to illustrate the breadth of global pro bono. 

 DLA Piper and New Perimeter’s ZIALE project

DLA Piper, a leader in the global pro bono, provides assistance to many underserved regions of the world through their “New Perimeter” initiative. DLA Piper founded New Perimeter, a non-profit organization, in 2005 with the vision of harnessing the skills of DLA Piper’s lawyers to provide a more just world for all. New Perimeter’s projects center around four categories: access to justice, social and economic development, sound legal institutions, and women’s advancement.  

DLA Piper and New Perimeter do extensive pro bono work on the African continent, and for the past five years have been conducting legal trainings on negotiation and drafting skills to graduate law students at the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE). This project is an example of how global pro bono services can work to build sound legal institutions. On this project, lawyers from DLA Piper, General Electric**, and DLA Piper’s African Member Firm Chibesakunda & Co. worked together to build the capacity and skills of Zambian lawyers by introducing new methodologies, materials, and information to students at ZIALE. These trainings have been part of the ZIALE curriculum since 2016 and are a great example of law firms and corporations working together on a global pro bono initiative. Additionally, this project exemplifies how global pro bono work can act as a bridge between a firm’s worldwide offices, as the DLA Piper and General Electric lawyers came from Brazil, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Tanzania, and Australia. 

White & Case in Lesvos, Greece

White & Case, an international law firm with approximately 44 offices (most outside of the U.S.), has been undertaking a large-scale global pro bono project in Lesvos, Greece since 2019. In collaboration with five other law firms through European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) and Refugee Legal Support (RLS), White & Case is helping asylum seekers prepare for interviews as they seek a new life in Europe. These asylum seekers are stationed at the Moria refugee camp, which is known for its dehumanizing and unsafe conditions. White & Case has committed to having volunteer lawyers in Lesvos year round, on two weeks rotations. The lawyers are provided a 15-hour online self-study program, in person and remote training sessions, and a half day session at ELIL upon arrival. Collectively, White & Case lawyers help 15 to 20 clients per week on their asylum applications. The impact of their pro bono services is clear; according to ELIL, 75 percent of asylum seekers receiving aid from ELIL lawyers are granted international protection, compared to just under 50 percent for asylum seekers in Greece overall. Several participating White & Case lawyers expressed the sentiment that it is their duty, as lawyers, to use their legal skills and services to confront humanitarian crises and aid affected individuals.

In-House Feature: Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon** 

BNY Mellon, a U.S.-based bank, is leveraging its impressive legal department resources to provide crucial pro bono services to those in need around the world. In 2019, BNY Mellon engaged in several international pro bono efforts in the U.K. and Africa. In partnership with Linklaters*, a global law firm with offices in 20 countries, BNY Mellon gave free housing law advice in London via the Mary Ward Legal Centre. BNY Mellon lawyers also provided assistance at the Free Legal Advice Centre in London, with the goal of addressing legal issues in disadvantaged communities. In Africa, BNY Mellon lawyers worked as part of a transnational team to support the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice. Alongside the Vance Center, BNY Mellon monitored and reported on human rights to produce “Women in Prison,” a report on the disproportionately high and increasing number of women in prisons across Africa. These are just a few examples of BNY Mellon’s international pro bono efforts evidencing that in-house departments can deploy their legal skills on a global scale.

Partnerships and Global Pro Bono Success

With the help of resources, guidance and global pro bono examples, more legal departments and firms can become involved in global pro bono work. Many are already extending their pro bono services to various countries, and their projects can help inform those eager to participate on how to become involved. A major theme across the various pro bono projects mentioned in this blog is partnership. The law firms or in-house legal departments partnered with organizations or other law firms in the country receiving assistance. Establishing these transnational partnerships creates meaningful and well-assessed opportunities for global pro bono work. Lawyers at law firms, corporations, and legal aid organizations alike are eager to engage in global pro bono work, and luckily there are great resources and examples out there to help lead the way. 

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project member

Hat tip to PBI intern Olivia Ross for drafting this blog. 


[1] For purposes of this blog, global pro bono refers to law firms and legal departments based in a country with an established pro bono tradition (such as the U.S.) supporting pro bono in countries with little or no independent pro bono culture and law firm and legal departments in countries around the globe growing their own pro bono cultures from within.  Thus, global pro bono can involve U.S. attorneys (and legal staff) sitting in the U.S. working on matters outside of the U.S., attorneys (and legal staff) based in and outside of the U.S. collaborating on non-U.S. matters, non-U.S. attorneys (and legal staff) working on matters outside of their own local jurisdiction(s), or non-U.S. attorneys (and legal staff) working on matters where they are admitted.