Community action and pro bonoNaomi RovnickCommunity action and pro bono: White & Case joins in battle to save Battersea Children’s Zoo

Saving reptiles may not be as high profile as getting prisoners off death row, but White & Case’s new pro bono project, to keep Battersea Park Children’s Zoo open, means more than keeping a few lizards alive.
The firm has teamed up with accountancy firm KPMG to stop Wandsworth Council selling the zoo and effectively privatising part of one of London’s most stunning public green spaces.
Wandsworth Council looks increasingly likely to flog the space to a developer who wants to build a set of glass pyramids housing an entire rainforest.
The council made the official decision to close the zoo on 14 May, prompting a storm of local press coverage and a group of local residents forming a campaign group to raise the profile of the zoo’s plight.
KPMG is doing a feasibility study to work out how the zoo, which the Parks Best Value Review said in 2000 needs £1.4m worth of improvements, can become sustainable, while White & Case is taking advice from counsel on the best legal tactics to pursue.
Battersea Children’s Zoo lost more than £200,000 in 2001-02 and Wandsworth has decided that it does not have enough educational value to be kept open.
But with the help of White & Case European pro bono coordinator Felicity Kirk and KPMG’s Annelisa Grieg, there may be life in the old zoo yet.
White & Case’s varied and well-staffed pro bono programme puts it in the City’s leading pack. Felicity Kirk, the firm’s pro bono coordinator and a finance lawyer, was recruited over two years ago from the same role at Clifford Chance and has built admirably on the firm’s strong US programme all over Europe.
White & Case’s European lawyers contributed more than 10,000 hours to pro bono work in the firm’s last financial year, making White & Case’s scheme unusually active beyond the traditional community action hubs of New York and London.
Outside London, the firm’s Belgian, Czech, French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Swedish and Turkish offices are all heavily involved in pro bono.
Its three-partner Moscow office clocked up a staggering 3,300 hours, while the six-partner Paris practice also managed a highly commendable 3,000.
London projects over the past few years have included providing free legal assistance to UK families of victims of 11 September. London partner and Manchester United fan Maurice Allen also advised a memorial fund set up by the Brighton & Hove Albion FC fan club.
In the US, White & Case undertakes pro bono work for the Community Law Office of the Legal Aid Society, Legal Services for the Elderly and the pro bono panels run by the southern and eastern districts of New York. The firm also takes political asylum and prisoner rights cases.