A new charitable trust, aimed at providing financial support to law centres throughout London, is set to launch in April. The London Legal Support Trust will be launched by Lord Woolf on 29 April. The first of its kind, it will coordinate fundraising efforts by firms across the City.
The trust hopes to enlist the support of an army of volunteers from law firms and chambers to organise fundraising activities such as quiz nights, comedy nights and dinners. The money raised will be pooled and law centres will apply directly to the trust for funding. The trust will assess applications and target the collective funds raised to the most worthy requests. This financial aid will help the legal centres overcome funding crises, develop new services, support appeals and improve their premises.
Chair of the London Legal Support Trust Bob Nightingale says the initiative is designed to redress the inequality between Central London’s law centres and those in outlying areas. Central London’s centres have long been well supported by City firms. Tower Hamlets and Wandsworth and Merton in particular have reaped the benefits of partnership with City firms. However, for law centres outside Central London and for newer centres, winning the support of City backers is more difficult. How, after all, would the City be expected to know of the recently-opened Enfield Law Centre?
The scheme is designed to take the risk and uncertainty out of the current system, whereby law firms assess ad hoc requests for funding themselves. Nightingale comments: “Most firms receive a large number of ad hoc requests for funding each year, but without knowledge of the requesting agency they’re unable to assist.”
Firms with smaller budgets are also often deterred from providing funding for pro bono programmes out of a fear that their contribution will have little impact and go unnoticed. Nightingale hopes that pooling the donations of law firms will allow firms collectively to make a positive difference. “It’s not a substitute for legal aid,” says Nightingale. “But we’re going to put the Government to shame.”
The trust is now seeking membership from firms and chambers. Nightingale says the trust is not looking for donations. “We’re not after their money… well, not at first,” he insists. Instead, he hopes they will lend their support to fundraising initiatives. “If we do it right and it becomes embedded in the City, it will be a success,” he adds.
Already Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance and Simmons & Simmons have thrown their weight behind the trust. A&O senior litigation partner David Mackie QC and Simmons pro bono partner Richard Dyton are among the trustees. A&O advised on all the constitutional work for the creation of the trust and provided secretarial support. Simmons produced the publicity and Clifford Chance is hosting the launch, which will take place at Canary Wharf on 29 April.