Community action and pro bono: Lovells pro bono team helps homeless find employment

Escaping the nightmare of homelessness without a job is almost impossible. Lovells, however, has been helping the homeless make the most of the employment opportunities that do exist.
The firm’s pro bono officer Yasmin Waljee says: “Homeless people face almost insurmountable barriers to employment from their lack of education, absence of competitive work skills and, in many cases, a lack of self-esteem.”
The firm’s HR team runs a ‘New Start’ programme, which includes a two-day training course for homeless people. Its main aim is to restore confidence to enable them to achieve their full potential in the work environment.
Lovells, which for years has had one of the leading City pro bono teams, is also encouraging its corporate lawyers to help the homeless. Recent changes in the grant-funded sector are making it more difficult for charities to survive on grants alone. A number of corporate lawyers are helping not-for-profit social enterprises such as Aspire and Green-Works to develop additional income streams from trading without compromising their social objectives.
Lovells, for example, helped Aspire put in place a capital structure that allowed social venture capital to be invested in the business. It created 120 new jobs. Thomas Harding, a solicitor in the firm’s private equity team, says: “The interest, from our point of view, was in how we could most efficiently tailor our standard form documents to a structure that had social, as well as commercial, aims.”
Lovells has a track record in pro bono that is hard to beat in the City. Its commitment is clear to see. Indeed, in June 2003 the firm received the Business in the Community Healthy Communities Award for London due to its work with the homeless. In what is one of the most visible of social problems, Lovells is streets ahead.
In the current financial year ending 30 April 2003, Lovells recorded an estimated 13,700 pro bono hours. That number included 338 lawyers, which is some 50 per cent of the firm’s London-based lawyers, working on more than 200 projects.
Lovells focuses on providing legal advice rather than community work, although it also runs a mentoring scheme with the children of St Aloysius school in Highgate, London.
Yasmin Waljee, a solicitor and the firm’s full-time pro bono officer, is assisted by a full-time and legally trained assistant pro bono officer. Partner Graham Huntley oversees the worldwide pro bono programme.
Pro bono has traditionally been focused on litigation in the main. However, Lovells’ thorough approach proves that there is a wealth of knowledge and skills in the corporate sector that can be applied for the benefit of those in need.
This innovative approach to pro bono has been recognised with the award for Best Pro Bono Activity in The Lawyer Awards 1999, 2000 and 2001. It was the Bronze Award winner in 2003.