The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

Africa and Middle East

December 4, 2015

Justice Center for Legal Aid, Jordan

JordanPBI recently sat down with Hadeel Abdel Aziz, co-founder and executive director of the Justice Center for Legal Aid (JCLA), located in Amman, Jordan. Aziz visited the U.S. this fall as an Eisenhower Fellow and met with Law Firm Pro Bono Project Director Tammy Taylor and Global Pro Bono Project Coordinator Sri Katragadda to discuss pro bono and access to justice, both in the U.S. and in Jordan.

A nonprofit organization established in 2008, JCLA has grown from one legal aid clinic in Amman into the largest legal aid provider in Jordan, with 25 clinics located across the country. In 2009, JCLA provided legal representation to clients in 78 matters, which grew to 2,477 in 2014. One-on-one legal consultation sessions grew from 141 in 2009 to 4,518 in 2014. Today, JCLA reports that on a monthly basis it assists approximately 375 beneficiaries through legal consultations, provides legal representation to approximately 150 beneficiaries across 200 cases, and reaches approximately 3,600 vulnerable people through its awareness sessions.

JCLA, using both its own attorneys as well as pro bono volunteers, assists poor and vulnerable people by:

  • Raising awareness of legal rights and legal aid;
  • Providing free legal services, through either legal consultation or legal representation; and
  • Gathering data on access to justice barriers and advocating for reforms to overcome such barriers.

We will stay tuned for future developments in Jordan and we wish Aziz and JCLA all the best with their continuing work in providing legal assistance to the needy.

June 17, 2015

Liberia, the Magna Carta, and the Rule of Law

151107828 480622343

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

July 16, 2014

Television and Pro Bono: An Innovative Approach

How does one of the world’s premier entertainment brands engage its lawyers in pro bono?  It does what comes naturally and combines the medium of television with the unique skills of its legal department and production staff to make a difference to those in need around the globe.

viacom image

© MTV Staying Alive Foundation

In 2006, Kenya adopted the Sexual Offences Act, designed to combat gender-based violence. For several years after its passage, implementation of the law proved difficult as the new rights and obligations were not well-understood.  To increase public awareness of gender-based violence and the implications of the new law, the legal department of Viacom International Media Networks, a division of Viacom Inc.**, worked with the producers of its television program Shuga: Love, Sex, Money to incorporate important legal information into the storyline and leverage the program to educate the Kenyan community and viewers around the world.

The television show, which is shown on stations worldwide, is produced by MTV Networks Africa, The MTV Staying Alive Foundation and several other partners, and is part of a large multimedia campaign with a goal of achieving a generation free of HIV.  During the show’s pre-production phase, Viacom worked with Shearman & Sterling* and Lawyers Without Borders to research and analyze Kenyan case law so that they could then consult with the production team to structure a plotline regarding rape and draft materials for a public legal education campaign.  The Shuga pro bono team included lawyers from offices throughout Europe and the U.S., who collaborated across borders with each other and with NGOs in Kenya to develop legal messaging that would be relevant and accessible to the Kenyan public.

The public education materials produced by the team were designed using the characters and storyline from the television program and aimed to increase public understanding of gender violence and raise awareness of the Sexual Offences Act.  By identifying core messages for public education and drafting a resources section on sexual assault, content teams were able to effectively design a graphic novel and other non-traditional educational media using Shuga characters. The materials supplemented the television show so individuals unfamiliar with the program or without television could still access the information.  In addition, a “toolkit” that includes additional resources is available to Shuga partners, who work in and around Kenya.  The materials were made available online, marketed through the radio, referenced by lawyers and judges conducting trainings, and publicized through a Kenyan national newspaper, which ran the graphic novel as a serial.

This unique and innovative project dramatically expanded the impact of the pro bono work by partnering pro bono legal services with television and print media to spread legal education to an entire population.  It is an excellent example of how a legal department is able to contribute its unique legal skills to the community service efforts of the company as a whole, as well as the company’s products and services, and make a tremendous difference in the communities in which they operate.

Viacom Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary Michael D. Fricklas spoke about the pro bono efforts for Shuga and the potential impact of in-house pro bono at a recent meeting of in-house pro bono leaders in New York.  Fricklas notes,

I couldn’t be more proud of the work our lawyers have done on the Shuga project. They have been working on the scripts, editing story lines and reaching millions of people. Given Viacom’s global footprint, international pro bono is a big piece of our overall pro bono efforts. This project was also particularly interesting because it allowed us to collaborate with, and leverage the expertise of, colleagues around the world. As a media company, we have to figure out what the right opportunities are and we are lucky we had this opportunity to do something that is a little different. Lawyers within every industry can find special projects that reflect their particular strengths.

The PBEye can’t wait to hear more about this team’s upcoming project in Nigeria, which focuses on domestic violence and gender violence.


* denotes Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
** denotes Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

July 9, 2014

Plans for Mandatory Pro Bono Service in Saudi Arabia

As recently reported in the Saudi Gazette, official sources from the Justice Ministry of Saudi Arabia have disclosed plans to impose mandatory pro bono requirements on the Kingdom’s lawyers. Under the Ministry’s new special statute, lawyers will be required to provide pro bono representation to at least nine poor persons per year.

Mandatory pro bono has been greatly debated in the U.S. PBI President and CEO Esther F. Lardent has noted that while bold steps must be taken to address the access to justice gap, philosophical and pragmatic reasons weigh against imposing mandatory pro bono in the U.S. at this time. PBI has endorsed a number of steps the legal profession can take, including “voluntary plus” pro bono, in which the U.S. system expects every lawyer to undertake pro bono unless they opt out, and acts accordingly. This is a fundamental shift in culture and perspective for the U.S., but is a change that falls short of mandating pro bono service.

The PBEye is acutely aware that different countries, cultures, and legal systems should experiment with different approaches to addressing gaps in access to justice unique to their situation; this new mandatory pro bono rule in Saudi Arabia is a development we will follow with interest. Under the change, service required will include provision of legal advice, defending clients in court, and following up on cases. Ministry sources noted that plans for the new program arose after visits to several EU countries and an assessment of their legal aid systems for the poor. The launch of Saudi Arabia’s program is intended to address the problem of low-income citizens in the Kingdom who are unable to pay the high costs of lawyers.

August 17, 2011

Global Spotlight: Elephant Energy

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”  Light, and pro bono service, we’d like to add.  This week, The PBEye spied a pro bono empowered initiative, Elephant Energy, that quite literally drives out darkness from rural villages across Namibia by distributing sustainable energy technologies.

Local shopkeepers distribute Elephant Energy lights to Namibian villagers. Photo courtesy of Karam Saab.

Namibia lacks the resources to meet the energy needs of its rural population.  Daily livelihood activities are rendered unsafe, inefficient, or even impossible without electricity.  For example, between 1.3 and 1.6 million women and children die worldwide each year as a result of air pollution caused by smoke inhalation from cooking fires.  For the foreseeable future, approximately one million rural Namibians residing outside the nation’s power grid will continue to live without electricity every single day.

So, when attorney Douglas Vilsack – son of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack – announced his intention to tackle Namibia’s rural energy crisis, his former law school classmate, Kilpatrick Townsend and Stockton LLP* Associate Karam Saab, promptly boarded a plane for southern Africa.  Saab spent two weeks investing his legal skills, pro bono, to help Vilsack set up Elephant Energy as a nonprofit trust in the town of Katima Mulilo.  After studying Namibia’s business laws and consulting with other local social entrepreneurs, Saab and Vilsack concluded that the best available course of action was to establish a for-profit company, and then feed its profits into the nonprofit entity.

The appropriate sustainable energy technologies (ASETs) that Elephant Energy distributes make livelihood activities easier, safer, and more efficient for rural Namibians.  Energy efficient cook stoves reduce emissions.  Solar-powered lights increase the number of hours available in a day for reading, craft-making, vocational activities, or schoolchildren’s homework.  And, the lights’ solar-charges enable villagers to charge cell phones and maintain contact with family members.  Villagers accustomed to spending $7.00 every month on candles and kerosene can now purchase a range of solar-powered lights for between $10.00 and $30.00  each.  The units produce up to four hours of light per solar charge, requiring only a replacement battery every three to five years.  Saab told The PBEye,Such a small investment can make a big difference in people’s lives.”

NGOs, like Elephant Energy, that work to alleviate extreme poverty and suffering are cropping up in every corner of the globe.  Providing general legal support to emerging social enterprises is a richly rewarding way to use pro bono to improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized people.  According to Vilsack, global pro bono is also good for business:

It’s very important for lawyers to establish connections with people in the developing world.  When people like Karam Saab gain an understanding of what it’s like on the ground in places like Namibia, it makes it easier for companies to do business there.  Law firms need to develop an understanding of these countries, and who they can go to, in order to competently advise businesses that want to enter these emerging markets.  In order for social entrepreneurs to do this good work, pro bono lawyers need to do their part.

Saab’s pro bono support is empowering Elephant Energy to actualize its vision for rural Namibians of “Light in every home, clean air in every kitchen, power in every hand.

Pro bono attorney, Karam Saab, at an elephant crossing in rural Namibia. Photo courtesy of Karam Saab.

Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP* has adopted the maxim, “We are lawyers.  Some of our best work isn’t billable.”  Saab, an intellectual property and patent attorney with the firm’s Denver office, took his pro bono responsibilities to heart . . . and then, all the way to Namibia.  “People around the office have heard that I’m doing this [global pro bono] work,” said Saab, “and they’re asking how they can get involved.  I see pro bono overseas as an opportunity to make perhaps an even greater impact on people’s lives than is possible in the U.S.”

For assistance incorporating a global element into your firm or legal department’s pro bono scheme, contact Global Pro Bono Project Coordinator Julia Alanen.  Or, embark on a virtual world tour using PBI’s Global Pro Bono Atlas to explore pro bono practices and opportunities abroad.

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®