B&M offers free advice to developing countries

Baker & McKenzie is offering free legal advice as part of its pro bono initiative to help developing countries.

The project, aimed at countries including Rwanda and Zambia, is being run in conjunction with the firm's World Trade Organisation (WTO) Group.

According to the WTO there are 48 least developed countries (LDC) of which only 19 are members of the organisation.

Ross Denton, managing partner of the European law centre at Baker & McKenzie, says the firm's 75-strong WTO group already advises both public and private clients on issues relating to the organisation.

But he says that there are a number of governments or bodies which cannot afford legal advice to aid their entry into the WTO, including advice coping with the organisation's rules.

He says: “We came up with the idea that rather than give individuals [free advice] we would give it to governments who have nothing.”

James Cameron, of counsel at Baker & McKenzie, says: “LCDs need to cooperate in each trade centre to be heard but there is an absence of experience in many of these countries.”

Denton says the firm hopes to offer the countries up to 40 hours each of free advice, but he adds: “If it turns out that all 48 countries come to us on the first day we will look at how we can work it.”

Denton denies that the firm is attempting to exploit potential new markets on the relatively untouched areas of LDCs. He says: “We are doing this for the right reasons.”

But he adds that the project will allow the firm to differentiate itself from other law firms.

Cameron says: “This sort of venture is smart. In business there are too many corporates which are realising the same thing – that they have to respond to difference. It is a highly competitive global market. A lot of legal work is bulk work nowadays. Firms need to display different expertise and a bit of vision.”