The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It


November 24, 2015

Technology and Access to Justice

Technology blogThe PBEye is excited to report on an online tool in the U.K. called CourtNav, developed by the Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau (RCJ Advice) in partnership with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer†. Employing a user-friendly design with simple step-by-step questions, CourtNav helps clients who cannot afford a lawyer complete forms and navigate the court process.

RCJ Advice first triages clients by phone to determine whether someone needs face-to-face advice or can be assisted through CourtNav, which has a number of helpful features — it can spot inconsistent answers, identify whether the client qualifies for reduced court fees, and summarize current status within the court process. The tool also allows the client to communicate with a solicitor to finalize documents before printing, signing, and submitting them in court.

CourtNav is a commendable example of technology not only providing self-help guidance, but also enabling distance pro bono, allowing lawyers in the greater London area to assist clients in remote areas.

Exploring this innovative tool also gives The PBEye another opportunity to ponder “disruptive” pro bono. How should we think about making pro bono more efficient, incorporating new technologies, and developing effective triage systems?

RCJ Advice’s approach to screening clients to determine which matters are most in need of legal representation versus those well-suited to CourtNav appears to be a promising example of leveraging pro bono resources efficiently. We commend Freshfields and RCJ Advice on this exciting example of triage, technology, self-help, and distance pro bono!

 denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

October 25, 2013

London Calling: A Roundtable Discussion on Pro Bono in Today’s U.K.

PBI returns to London for the second time in two weeks on October 27, and will meet with a number of law firms and nonprofit organizations working on pro bono matters.  With the U.K.’s National Pro Bono Week fast approaching, discussion of the current challenges of pro bono practice in Britain is a timely topic.  It is one that a prominent group of pro bono lawyers and professionals recently discussed and debated at a roundtable convened by the Law Society Gazette, the official magazine of the Law Society of England and Wales, a roundtable participant.  The roundtable’s other participants were representatives of Hogan Lovells*†, Clifford Chance, OH Parsons, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer†, TLT Solicitors, LawWorks, RCJ Advice Bureau, and the Bar Council.

The roundtable discussion touched on a variety of observations, including the fact that pro bono hour contributions over the last two decades have risen significantly among many British firms and legal departments.  In addition, the Law Society has found that there is genuine enthusiasm for pro bono work in the legal profession.  Finally, roundtable participants agreed that the public may not always be aware of the positive contributions lawyers make through their pro bono work because such work is not always publicized.  As one roundtable participant stated, “Asked why we do pro bono work, the answer is simply that we have always done pro bono.”

London is calling, and PBI is on its way to learn more!

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

October 16, 2013

PBI is going to Warsaw!

This month marks the seventh anniversary of the annual European Pro Bono Forum, organized by PILnet (the Global Network for Public Interest Law).  Hosted this year in Warsaw, Poland, the Forum brings together several hundred leaders representing law firms, in-house legal departments, bar associations, nongovernmental organizations, and law schools from around the world to focus on a variety of European and global pro bono topics. We are particularly interested in hearing this year’s keynote speaker, Shirin Ebadi, co-founder of the Centre for Supporters of Human Rights and the Association for the Support of Children’s Rights, both in Iran.  Ebadi received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work in championing human rights, particularly the rights of women, children, and political prisoners in Iran.

PILnet Cover

Workshop “streams” at the Forum consist of: Building Strong Pro Bono Foundations, Human Rights, Global Pro Bono, Pro Bono Frontiers, and a Pro Bono Lab.  With sessions among such streams including LGBTI rights, women’s rights, business activity’s impact on human rights, access to justice and the internet, and pro bono in emerging economies, the PBEye anticipates a productive and engaging event.

As Forum organizers note, Poland is an inspiring location for this event due to a pro bono tradition that has “survived a history burdened by autocratic rule, communism, and other periods of social destabilization. Throughout, there have always been a few courageous lawyers who have embraced the duty to act on behalf of the public good.”  Well said, and the PBEye celebrates the efforts underway to promote and institutionalize pro bono within the legal systems of Poland, Europe at large, and beyond.

June 12, 2012

In-House Pro Bono in England & Wales

Many legal departments are interested in global pro bono, but fewer have global programs due to real and perceived challenges.  The PBEye knows that one of the biggest challenges is a lack of information about opportunities and regulations in different countries.   To help in-house attorneys leap this hurdle,  DLA Piper LLP* recently published the England and Wales In-House Counsel Pro Bono Guide, which provides in-house lawyers with tools and information to establish or expand a pro bono program in those jurisdictions.

The guide offers insight into dealing with common obstacles such as indemnity insurance, cost agreements, and identifying the most appropriate projects.  To help legal departments avoid these complications, DLA Piper lists partnering opportunities through which legal departments can join established pro bono projects.  For departments interested in starting a program, the guide includes a sample pro bono policy that departments can modify to reflect their needs and goals.

We are excited to see this new global pro bono resource for legal departments.  And, interested departments (and law firms) can learn more about pro bono in 42 jurisdictions by reviewing “A Survey of Pro Bono Practices and Opportunities in Selected Jurisdictions,” which was prepared by Latham & Watkins LLP* for PBI.   As always, PBI’s Global Pro Bono Project is another resource that offers consultative services, research, publications and more.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

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 . . .

September 8, 2011

Russia’s Pro Bono Revolution

Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sarra.

Until a few years ago, pro bono was a largely unfamiliar concept in Russia.  According to an article in The Moscow Times, Russia’s recent pro bono revolution comes at an opportune time when Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are in dire need of legal support:

The legal environment for NGOs has become more challenging.  New registration requirements and complex tax regulations have  added a heavy burden to NGO operations, and securing access to affordable legal support is now critical to strengthening civil society.  It is here that both international and local firms can have the greatest impact.

Over the past few years, pro bono lawyers from Clifford Chance and other Russia-based law firms have partnered with United Way of Russia and the Global Network for Public Interest Law (PILnet) to deliver a series of legal seminars to Russian NGOs.  “In our experience, the benefit is not only to the individual or organization on the receiving end of the support,” said Clifford Chance Pro Bono and Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Tatiana Pesotskaya. “Our lawyers frequently cite the sense of personal pride that comes from their pro bono engagements and the value of the long-term relationships it builds with those they work with on these types of initiatives.”  Already, 714 participants from 438 NGOs have benefitted from the pro bono legal workshops.

Shrewdly, Russia isn’t relying exclusively on pro bono to meet the legal needs of its most indigent and vulnerable people.  Over the past five years, pilot legal aid bureaus and government-funded civil legal aid schemes have cropped up in a number of localities. And, a bill submitted to the Duma earlier this summer sets forth a model for the development of a Russia-wide free legal aid system, with a distinct role for the private bar.

Kudos from The PBEye to Russia’s legal community for its commitment to institutionalizing pro bono and enhancing access to justice.

Be sure to drop us a comment if you’re in the know about promising pro bono rumblings abroad.

August 30, 2011

Global Pro Bono for Sports Enthusiasts

The Olympic rings at St. Pancras International Rail Station in London greet visitors in preparation for the 2012 Olympics. Image courtesy of

As London gears up to host the Summer Games of the XXX Olympiad, sports fans (and pro bono fans, natch) have devised yet another innovative way to do global pro bono.  LC.N Weekly reports that an all-star panel of 18 law firms and chambers has formed to dispense free legal advice to athletes, coaches, team officials, national committees, and international federations at the upcoming 2012 Olympics. Pro bono advice will cover a range of legal issues from sports and crime to defamation, privacy, immigration, asylum, discrimination, and personal injury.

Whether you’re a fan of winter or summer games; men’s, women’s, or mixed events; or Youth Olympics or Paralympics, global pro bono opportunities abound.  Even if you’re not an athletics enthusiast, the Olympic Games are about much more than sports.  According to the International Olympic Committee, the Olympics inspire hope and joy around the world:

Sport is an antidote to the problems faced by young people . . . Sport has a unique power to bring happiness and unity in the most desperate of circumstances.  Sports programs . . . are crucial, as they fundamentally change behavior.  They reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  They decrease levels of substance abuse.  They increase motivation and educational performance.  They empower women.  They are a vital tool for human development.

In 1908, the Olympics adopted the now famous motto, “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!”  We couldn’t agree more and think that pro bono service is a richly rewarding way to take part in the Olympic Games.

Are you involved in an innovative global pro bono initiative?  Drop us a comment and fill us in.

July 12, 2011

Pro Bono is Serious Business

Major multinational law firms are used to submitting to competitive bidding processes to land business . . . but more and more, firms are having to do so for coveted pro bono partnerships with leading nonprofits.  A recent article in the Guardian spotlights the three-month competitive process that U.K. charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), used to select four law firm pro bono partners from eleven eager bidders.  Among the chosen few is Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory Baker & McKenzie.

The business approach to pro bono may be novel to nonprofits, but the private sector practice of pitching for prized opportunities is old hat to most law firms.  NSPCC General Counsel Catherine Dixon understood this dynamic when she ditched the agency’s previous ad hoc approach to pro bono in favor of a more measured business model.  A formalized bidding process enables potential pro bono partners to assess fit, align expectations, and ensure that the resulting partnership best serves the target community’s legal needs.  The resulting cooperative agreement can help establish clear objectives, define the terms and duration of the partnership, and delineate each partner’s roles and responsibilities. 

In the balance, the business approach to pro bono is win-win-win – it benefits the client, the NGO, and pro bono counsel.  The PBEye sees this emerging trend as further evidence that pro bono is serious business — and seriously good for business.

Are you in the know about an emerging global pro bono trend or initiative?  Leave a comment below and tell us all about it.

June 3, 2011

Today Slovakia, Tomorrow the World!

The PBEye is pleased to report that pro bono is taking root around the world.  This week Slovakia went pro bono in a big way with the launch of its national Pro Bono Advocacy program which links private practitioners with local nonprofits and provides free legal advice to NGOs.  Administered by the Pontis Foundation with assistance from PILnet, the program has already harnessed the pro bono legal talent of a slew of Slovak law firms.

Whereas some countries’ legal communities have not been as eager to embrace pro bono, this initiative has garnered broad national support, from the Slovak Bar Association, which hosted the inaugural event, to the endorsement of the Minister of Justice for the Slovak Republic, Lucia Zitnanska, who made an appearance at the launch. Slovakia’s legal community earns an ebullient wink of approval from The PBEye for its commitment to enhance access to justice.

To learn more about Global Pro Bono, or for technical assistance, contact PBI Global Pro Bono Coordinator Julia Alanen.