Coudert Brothers’ London office has won its first ever pro bono client following the introduction of a formal pro bono programme last year.
The initiative coincides with the firm’s 150th anniversary, and is driven by its central management. Coudert partner Alistair Gorrie says: “Rather than just having parties, we wanted to do something longer-term for the community.”
Accordingly, the pro bono programme, already well established in the US, is being rolled out across the firm’s international network, resulting in the London office taking on its first pro bono client.
As part of the push, each office was called upon to identify and support a local children’s charity. Historically, the firm has had a longstanding commitment to homeless children. Paul Fuller, a former partner, was himself homeless as a child before being taken in by one of the original Coudert brothers.
But finding a suitable charity was harder than the London partners expected. Gorrie explains: “We struggled to find a charity that wasn’t too vast. We wanted our limited resources to make a difference.”
Through the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG) and the firm’s PR agency, the London office was introduced to Lambeth children’s charity Kids Company. With an annual budget of £2m, Kids Company was an ideal candidate. The group operates a day centre for homeless or troubled children, complete with refectory, café, gym, theatre, computer rooms, garden and therapy services.
Coudert has pledged basic employment, housing law, data protection and commercial advice, as well as fundraising assistance to the charity.
Last month the firm held a reception in the House of Commons to help raise awareness of Kids Company. Gorrie says all of the work the firm undertakes for the charity will be supervised by a partner and that it is covered by Coudert’s insurance.
Coudert has 40 lawyers in its London office, and Gorrie says that 12 of those have already promised their support to Kids Company. IT and support staff are also involved.
On whether the London office will expand its pro bono programme, Gorrie says: “Kids Company will comprise the majority of our pro bono work, but it won’t be the only pro bono work we’ll do.”
The firm is open to taking ad hoc instructions from the SPBG, to which it signed up last summer.
Pro bono initiatives in which lawyers align themselves with a single institution and provide advice from ‘go to woe’ are well suited to smaller legal groups. For this reason, they are common among in-house teams. Gorrie says: “The idea was driven by the firm as a whole. As it happens, it’s also the most effective way for our office to do pro bono.”