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As part of our pro bono week coverage, we looked into what makes a leading pro bono law firm, and what practices those conducting such work should avoid. We spoke to Rebecca Wilson, pro bono & public legal education policy advisor at the Law Society, Tom Dunn, pro bono director at Clifford Chance, Stephanie Biden, partner in the Charity & Social Enterprise team at Bates Wells Braithwaite (BWB), and Mark Mansell, partner at Allen & Overy (A&O).
Rebecca Wilkinson said that city firms have in the past focused on providing pro bono support predominantly to charities and NGOs, with submissions to the Law Commission from eight of the largest commercial firms in the City showing social welfare law makes up around 10% of the firms’ total pro bono work. ‘However, in recent years they have begun to increase the pro bono support they offer individuals through free legal advice.
‘Larger firms will often coordinate their pro bono work through a pro bono manager or a committee, in accordance with a pro bono policy or strategy for the entire firm.’
Mark Mansell said that innovation is paramount in larger firms’ pro bono work, as it is when working with fee-paying clients. ‘Over the past year, we have also been trying to help address unmet legal need outside of London. Working with Central England Law Centre and Coventry University, we have piloted a pro bono telephone employment advice line which has helped the Law Centre to triple the amount of clients assisted.
‘While it is important for us to explore these innovations, there is still significant unmet legal need which requires specialist expertise and pro bono work cannot fill this gap.’
Tom Dunn says pro bono work in big firms usually falls within a CR or responsible business strategy. ‘Pro bono is generally seen as the principal way in which a big firm can make a useful social contribution in the communities in
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