B&M doubles pro bono hours in London with Charity focus

A programme by the London office of Baker & McKenzie (B&M) aimed at ramping up levels of pro bono work (see The Lawyer, 27 October 2003) to match those in its US offices has seen the number of hours devoted to good causes almost double.

Last year lawyers at the London office chalked up 1,750 hours of pro bono work. According to pro bono partner Tom Cassels, the figure for the current year should be nearly twice that. “Frankly, I didn’t think that 1,750 was a good enough contribution,” said Cassels. “That’s only about one lawyer’s worth of hours and it’s not enough. I want us to be at the point where we’re justifying how much we’re doing, not being worried that we’re not doing enough.”

That day is getting closer thanks largely to the firm’s role advising charity Save the Children. The beginnings of the relationship coincide with B&M’s pro bono push. It now advises the charity across 19 jurisdictions on issues such as disputes and corporate matters. For example, it recently advised Save the Children on a trademark infringement matter in Canada and the charity is a user of B&M’s global trademark monitoring service, albeit at cost. “In London we effectively provide a general counsel role,” said Cassels. Other recent work has included technology advice, including setting up a website for non-government organisation NetHope. Legendary IT partner Harry Small oversaw the work, which was handled by assistant Ben Allgrove.

A partner at B&M since 2001, Cassels has been largely responsible for driving the global firm’s London pro bono push. Aside from helping cement the relationship with Save the Children, he has overseen internal initiatives such as the monthly pro bono-focused publication Common Ground. Recently, the firm has also established a global pro bono coordinating committee, which has been fundamental in forging international links for pro bono work.

One of Cassels’ aims is to secure a spot for pro bono on the agenda at the European partners’ annual retreat. It will not make it this year in Prague, but Cassels is confident it will be there in 2006.

“Raising people’s appetite for pro bono hasn’t been difficult at all,” said Cassels. “People are very, very keen, especially the younger lawyers. I think they see it as a way of differentiating between firms and what we can offer. Otherwise we’re just a bunch of surnames.”

Increasingly, there is also a hard-nosed commercial aspect for corporate firms to consider. As Cassels pointed out: “Every other pitch document these days requires you to tell the prospective client about your pro bono work.”