Community action and pro bono: Reed Smith saves Borough’s best bubble and squeak cafe

Maria Moruzzi makes a mean bubble and squeak, and her Borough Cafe is a local legend. She caters for customers such as Sean Connery, Lord Lawson and Jamie Oliver. But when Railtrack (now Network Rail) said it was looking to build a railway through her premises, no stars came to her rescue.
Moruzzi’s parents owned the lease of the building, but both were ill (her father has since died). Moruzzi was scared by the thought of losing the cafe that her parents had owned for years. Luckily, her less glamorous patrons included some property lawyers at Reed Smith, who offered to help her out.
“Initially we didn’t want to give up the premises,” says Reed Smith partner Lawrence Radley. “We supported the lawyers who were objecting at the public inquiry, but when it was decided that the parents were too ill, we had to steer it round to get the best deal.”
Once Network Rail received planning permission, it would serve a compulsory purchase order. Moruzzi’s interest in the lease had to be increased so that there would be more compensation payable.
The short lease was extended and Moruzzi was added to it and although it has now been transferred to Network Rail, Moruzzi found herself with a bumper payout. The compensation will be paid next week and Moruzzi is set to open a stall in the market itself.
“This is about giving commercial advice to people who are not used to dealing with lawyers, surveyors and big organisations such as Railtrack,” says Radley.
Reed Smith has an impressively structured programme towards pro bono work in the US. The firm is obviously devoted to this programme but it seems this culture has yet to cross the Atlantic. Although the UK office is undertaking some important work, it seems to be done in a much less ordered manner.
Ann Cahouet, a litigator by training, serves as the firm’s full-time director of pro bono and community service. She administers the pro bono legal activities of all 11 of Reed Smith’s US offices and coordinates three of the firm’s 50 pro bono programmes: the Protection from Abuse project, the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts programme and the Adoption Legal Services project.
Donna Doblick, a litigation partner in the firm’s Pittsburgh office, is chair of Reed Smith’s pro bono committee. The committee consists of partners from several of the firm’s US offices. It meets regularly to oversee and evaluate the firm’s pro bono programme.
In 2002, 325 Reed Smith lawyers devoted 14,632 hours to pro bono work. In addition, the firm devoted around 8,000 hours to non-legal volunteer community service work.
Reed Smith has undertaken much work to preserve religious freedoms. It has advised death row inmates and victims of civil wars. On a lighter note, it has even represented a dog-owner who was being prosecuted under the Pennsylvania Vicious Dog Act in a strange case of dog bites dog.