New Perimeter Director, Lisa Dewey, Speaks on Pro Bono and the Rule of Law
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
- Organization: DLA Piper
PBI President and CEO Esther F. Lardent joined leaders from Advocates for International Development (A4ID), Reed Smith LLP, and DLA Piper LLP’s New Perimeter for the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Nov. 10 panel presentation, Developing a Pro Bono Culture. The panel is part of a Rule of Law informational series sponsored by the ABA’s Section of International Law.
Only quite recently has pro bono appeared outside of the U.S., Lardent told participants, in part because many countries have historically had more public support for legal services than the U.S. As a result of this deficit, pro bono has emerged as one of the high points of the U.S. legal profession and a critical resource for the poor, disadvantaged and disenfranchised. But, no country’s state legal aid budget has emerged from the global economic crisis unscathed, and as a result, “There isn’t any country in the world,” said Lardent, “that hasn’t at least begun to look at pro bono as part of the answer to establishing stable governments based on the rule of law.”
As law firms and legal departments increasingly go multinational, pro bono is sprouting up in the countries where they do business. Leading national firms and corporations around the world are also beginning to develop formal pro bono programs. According to Reed Smith Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Sarah Ramwell, pro bono is the right thing to do as global citizens and legal professionals; it engages staff, hones their skills and aids their advancement; and it builds deeper relationships based on shared values. New Perimeter Director Elizabeth Dewey emphasized the unique professional development opportunities not available in every day practice and the manifold benefits of cross-disciplinary teaming around global pro bono projects. A4ID Chief Executive Yasmin Batliwala added, “The law can and should be used more effectively to eliminate poverty, fulfill our role as legal professionals, and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”
“We think that pro bono should be an international phenomenon,” said Lardent, “It should respond to the unique needs, history and culture of each country.”
Global pro bono is not without its challenges. According to Lardent, pro bono is still a relatively new concept in many legal cultures, and highlighting pro bono accomplishments is sometimes seen as self-serving and inappropriate. Institutional obstacles, such as economic protectionism (statutorily mandated minimum legal fees) and prohibitions against soliciting pro bono clients, arise in numerous jurisdictions with little or no history of pro bono. And, sourcing pro bono can be challenging – the marked lack of trusted intermediaries in many countries makes it difficult for civic-minded legal professionals to identify legal needs or high-quality pro bono opportunities and capable partners. PBI works with its constituents to mitigate and eliminate these obstacles.
Lardent highlighted a broad range of compelling global pro bono initiatives that PBI Member firms and corporate legal departments have undertaken. Projects included helping draft state constitutions and build nascent justice systems in emerging democracies; training law students, lawyers and justice system actors; representing victims of egregious human rights violations before supranational courts; and what pro bono leaders refer to as non-contentious work, such as serving in a general counsel function to NGOs or providing economic development and legal assistance to women’s cooperatives and micro-entrepreneurs. Whatever the form, Lardent’s forecast for the international legal community involves “an inexorable move toward global pro bono.”
To learn more about pro bono practices and opportunities around the world, visit PBI’s Global Pro Bono Atlas. If you missed the ABA panel presentation, check out the podcast. And, look for PBI’s forthcoming publication “The Business Case for Global Pro Bono” and our upcoming webinar “Exploring an Innovative Legal Engagement Tool: Global Pro Bono.”