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The London office of Faegre Benson Hobson Audley has become the first firm to sign up to the Solicitors Pro Bono Group’s (SPBG) new protocol since the Law Society joined the scheme in February.
Robert Bond, the Faegre Benson partner responsible for pro bono, said the move was an important step. “It’s a charter to guarantee that when you do pro bono work, you provide it free to your client and give as much attention to that client as you would to any other,” said Bond.
He added that the guarantee would include making certain that the lawyer working on the matter was suitably qualified, could properly manage the file and would not take on the matter without appropriate insurance and controls being in place.
The Law Society signed up to the protocol on 26 February. Other earlier signatories include Vodafone, which was the first in-house team to sign, and Clyde & Co. However, Faegre Benson is the first firm to sign since the Law Society effectively ratified the charter.
“It’s a significant development for us,” said SPBG chief executive Sue Bucknall. “Once the Law Society signed up, we felt confident that other firms would be happy to sign. Faegre Benson does lots of work for us, so it’s appropriate that it was the first to sign.”
Bucknall pointed out that the Bar Council had yet to sign, although it had been present at the March 2001 joint conference where the idea of a pro bono protocol was first mooted. “It just shows how long it’s taken to get to this point,” said Bucknall, but she added: “The initiative was overwhelmingly supported at a meeting of the full council of the Law Society. Hopefully the Bar Council will also sign.”
Bucknall said the intention was to move towards a kite mark equivalent for pro bono, although admitted policing standards would be difficult. But she did say: “We’d soon hear about it if lawyers were not conforming to the protocol.”
Bond said that signing the protocol confirmed the firm’s commitment to pro bono. “But it only mirrors what we’ve been doing already,” he said. He estimated that the London end of the transatlantic firm registered more than 200 pro bono hours last year. “There’s a lot more in the US, where we have a very substantial pro bono practice,” he said. “At our partners meeting two weeks ago, we were looking at ways in which we can do more in London.”
Faegre Benson has been working with the SPBG for more than a year. During that time, work has ranged from advising charitable associations on commercial issues to the Dry Stone Wall Association of Great Britain on promoting the art of dry stone wall building.
The firm has four partners in London and around eight assistants involved in pro bono work.