As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt, lawyers are actively seeking ways to make positive contributions to civil society. Both in the UK and across Europe, pro bono work is flourishing with the pandemic presenting opportunities to find new ways to connect and collaborate.
Last month, TrustLaw, Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono legal service, took part in both the UK and European Pro Bono Weeks. Commenting on UK Pro Bono Week, Emily Donnan-Courtade, TrustLaw Programme Officer (EMENA), said: “One of the key highlights of this year was that all four nations hosted, presented and attended events. Moving the events online meant there were no geographical limitations, providing a great opportunity to collaborate and enhance existing relationships as well as creating new ones”.
One such collaboration was in Scotland, where TrustLaw partnered with CMS, Inspiring Scotland, musicALL and the University of Edinburgh Law School to form a “Championing Pro Bono Roundtable”, which saw engagement and enthusiasm from lawyers and non-profits alike, with the aim of driving more pro bono work. Pivotal to this was TrustLaw’s Championing Pro Bono Guide, launched earlier this year, which can be used as a tool to facilitate conversations on shared learnings and best practices in the pro bono sector.
Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, pro bono has continued to grow steadily, as the country hosted its second Ireland Pro Bono Week. The week saw a number of collaborative events involving TrustLaw, PILA (the Public Interest Law Alliance, a project of FLAC), and law firms Arthur Cox, A&L Goodbody and McCann FitzGerald coming together in an effort to highlight and promote pro bono culture. This included a workshop covering the latest COVID-19 related legal issues facing NGOs and social enterprises. One of the highlights of the week was the launch of Pro Bono Pledge Ireland – a public commitment to undertake pro bono work in the public interest, which aspires to achieve a yearly average of 20 hours per lawyer. The pledge generated more than 70 founding signatories, representing more than 2,000 lawyers willing and ready to take on pro bono projects.
There was no shortage of collaboration and innovation in continental Europe. The organisation of the Amsterdam Pro Bono Day, for example, resulted from a collaboration between TrustLaw, local clearinghouse Pro Bono Connect and leading local and international law firms celebrating the growing pro bono movement in the Netherlands. Sessions examined the increasing need for pro bono in turbulent times and how lawyers can be powerful actors for change – with topics including COVID-19, the climate emergency, the state of democracy and the ongoing refugee crisis. Similarly, across the border, Belgian Pro Bono Day saw international law firm Simmons & Simmons working with TrustLaw, global clearinghouse PILnet and others to organise impactful sessions that showcased the growing appetite for pro bono in the country. As one of the speakers summarised: “Pro bono is invaluable for a lawyers’ professional and personal development, as it helps them meet people from different backgrounds, broaden their perspectives and reconnect with the wider community”.
During France’s Pro Bono Week, NGOs, clearinghouses, lawyers and private enterprises came together to support civil society and the protection of fundamental rights. TrustLaw hosted a panel on using the power of pro bono to tackle violence against women in collaboration with La Fondation des Femmes, Droits d´Urgence and Led by Her. During the event, La Fondation des Femmes presented their award-wining research on “Legal Avenues to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence and Femicide”. The research findings were used by the French Government to enact new domestic violence legislation that provides better protection to victims of abuse. For instance, makes it illegal for abusers to use geo-location devices on their partners without their consent.
Finally, in Portugal and Spain, TrustLaw co-organised several events as part of the countries’ Pro Bono Days in collaboration with local partners, highlighting the importance of partnerships among law firms, non-profits, in-house legal teams and clearinghouses in creating an effective pro bono ecosystem.
Reflecting on Pro Bono Day Spain, Raúl Celda Montalt, TrustLaw European Programme Manager, said: “This year’s UK and European Pro Bono Weeks gave us an opportunity to share and celebrate the great work that is being carried out across the continent, and to face impeding challenges head on – fighting for fundamental human rights and the rule of law amidst the pandemic. Many things are being done, and many others remain to be done, but we will continue collaborating to achieve a better world through the power of pro bono.”
If your organisation is interested in receiving pro bono legal advice or if your law firm is interested in developing its pro bono work, please get in touch with the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s TrustLaw team here.