Washington DC-based firm Hogan & Hartson has teamed up with the Mary Ward Legal Centre in London to offer free specialist debt advice.
As part of the firm’s agreement with the centre, which offers free legal advice, four partners and 21 assistants from Hogan’s London office volunteer on a rotational basis to offer general debt and bankruptcy advice. This includes running weekly two-hour debt advice clinics.
Jeremy Kenley, a senior associate at Hogan who is overseeing the firm’s involvement, explained that the arrangement was struck after the firm contacted national pro bono coordinator LawWorks last year about offering specialist pro bono advice.
LawWorks then introduced Hogan to the Mary Ward Legal Centre’s debt clinic, which required assistance with general debt and bankruptcy advice.
Kenley explained: “Our preference was, rather than running a pro bono clinic which deals with a wide range of subject matters, to choose one area of law and obtain bespoke training and expertise in order to allow ourselves to specialise and provide advice with confidence.
“There was also a demand for a more interactive pro bono initiative in the form of a clinic where our volunteers could meet clients and help resolve day-to-day personal legal issues.
“We approached LawWorks to help us find a pro bono project that made the most of our skills sets.”
In return for the firm’s assistance, the Mary Ward Legal Centre is providing debt-related training sessions to the firm’s London lawyers to assist the expansion of their specialist knowledge.
All of Hogan’s 25 volunteers for the scheme are qualified lawyers, most of whom have at least three years’ PQE.
The lawyers offer advice to clients who have become heavily indebted and are struggling with the weight of their debts. Clients range from people struggling to make mortgage payments to those who have crippling credit card arrears.
“Mary Ward had too many clients and have many clients who aren’t able to come in to the centre during normal office hours, so it was a great opportunity for us to help out,” Kenley said. “Many of the clinic’s clients have never sought legal advice before and 99 per cent of them couldn’t afford to go anywhere else.”
Ambika Lall, a solicitor at the Mary Ward Legal Centre, said the centre has been providing free debt advice for more than 100 years, including evening sessions.
“These have traditionally been run by members of the public and retired solicitors, and there’s always been more demand than we were able to meet. So Hogan & Hartson’s contribution has been very valuable,” she added.
Lall went on to say that the charity was interested in arranging similar schemes with other law firms, particularly those with knowledge of litigation, employment, debt, and welfare and benefits.