Pro bono: Free dimensions

Eight outstanding pro bono initiatives have made the shortlist for this year’s The Lawyer Awards

With 30 entries to this year’s Ethical Initiative category of The Lawyer Awards the task of whittling the entries down to a shortlist was difficult, but whittle we did to produce the following list of eight entries – one of the themes of which is that, with the restrictions to legal aid beginning to bite, the role of private practice and not-for-profit organisations is set to become increasingly important in ensuring access to justice.

The flavour of the entries below is hopefully enough to inspire you to seize the initiative and get involved in pro bono work yourselves – after all, it could be you.

Allen & Overy has committed to its Rwanda project since 2008 and is set to continue this until 2015. So far, it has assisted in the creation of a new judicial college as well as technical training programmes for lawyers and government legal teams.

The firm has delivered 450 training slots for Rwandan lawyers and the project has totalled 3,500 hours of pro bono work.

The most recent focus of training has been to provide support advising on the model clause and arbitration rules for the new arbitration centre in Kigali.

Homeless man 190

Coventry Law Centre (CLC) provides social welfare legal advice to troubled families as part of a wider initiative to turn around those families’ lives.

CLC’s specialists work in the council’s troubled families team, organising interventions from the centre’s legal specialists in housing, family and community care.

The project began last year and will run for the three years of the government’s Troubled Families initiative. The initiative has so far helped 61 households resolve debt and welfare benefits issues, and has made 63 referrals to other specialist legal teams.

Homelessness has been a longstanding focus of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s Corporate Social Responsibility activities, joining forces with the Law Centres Network last year and identifying 16-17-year-olds as a particularly vulnerable group who too often slip through the net because of overlapping legislative regimes.

It has partnered with Shelter’s Children’s Legal Service, acting pro bono on litigation from complaints to local authorities and the Local Government Ombudsman to test cases in the Court of Appeal.

A 230-strong cross-border White & Case team worked with charities Lawyers without Borders and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on a research project to create a comprehensive database that includes detailed memos on every human trafficking case found, covering the nature of the crime, parties, jurisdictional issues and legal reasoning, supplemented by high-level analysis, totalling more than 6,300 hours of pro bono work.

The data will be used by enforcement agencies worldwide, while the firm will go on to prepare secondary products aimed at law enforcement, vulnerable populations and human rights advocates that can be created out of the database information.

Islington Law Centre set up the PROTECT legal service last year for young people trapped in cycles of poverty and deprivation. It offers a multi-disciplinary service spanning immigration, social welfare, housing and education.

A client aged 14 says: “No-one believed me when I told them my family had been killed. It was hard to talk about all the bad things […] everyone was angry at me and telling me I was a liar.

“With my solicitor’s help people started to listen. I don’t feel scared anymore. I feel that someone is helping me.”

Immigration

Kent Law Clinic has reacted to the withdrawal of legal aid from immigration cases by focusing even more on asylum casework, especially for those in Dover Immigration Removal Centre.

Last year the clinic dealt with more than 1,200 enquiries and acted formally in 119 cases. A three-year solicitor post in the clinic has been created which, since September 2012, has acted in 25 cases including a successful judicial review action.

Reed Smith is shortlisted for its funding, volunteer and pro bono legal support work with charity Create and the U-Turn Project, a shelter that works with vulnerable and hard-to-reach women in East London.

The project aims to give those trapped in cycles of prostitution, drug addiction, physical abuse and homelessness the opportunity to build their self-esteem through developing creativity and teamwork.

Refugee Action set up its Access to Justice project in 2012 to challenge refusals of legal aid to asylum seekers, with a view to exploring whether, how often and why the most vulnerable are excluded from protection to contribute to current policy debates around legal aid.

So far, the project has helped 24 asylum seekers overturn refusals of legal aid, representing a 71 per cent success rate, although most are yet to have their asylum appeals fully determined.