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US-based firm Morrison & Foerster’s (MoFo) efforts for London charity Choices 4 All has led to the firm employing an office junior with learning disabilities, an unlooked-for benefit of providing pro bono IP protection advice.
Choices is a small charity offering pre-vocational training for people with learning difficulties between the ages of 19 and 25, in order to support them into paid employment and independent living.
Following a revamp of the charity in 2002, it needed IP and data protection advice. The charity was anxious to protect its new ‘psycho-dynamic’ system of training materials that had been developed as part of the revamp.
Choices director Marie Harrison said: “We produced a system that identifies what kind of work a student would like to do and also the environment he or she would like to do it in, which in turn helps identify potential employment opportunities. Our new materials also included self-determination systems, ways of looking at multiple intelligence and also emotional intelligence. We were happy to share these products with other organisations, but if we did then we wanted them to be used properly and not to be brought into disrepute.”
MoFo was brought on board to help facilitate the sharing of the training materials with other community groups and to ensure Choices retained credit for and ownership of its work. The work itself involved completing notification to the Information Commissioner and continued advice on data protection compliance generally.
Tom Broadhurst, pro bono coordinator at MoFo, said working with Choices led to the firm creating an opportunity for one of the charity’s students. Hannah Loveday, a 23-year-old with Down’s Syndrome, started work at MoFo this year as an office junior. “She comes into the office each morning and deals with photocopying and general office junior duties. It has been an excellent experience, both for us and for Hannah,” said Broadhurst.
MoFo, which has been in the UK for 20 years, has always had a pro bono focus. Firmwide last year, the firm clocked up 85,961 pro bono hours. Broadhurst said the London practice has had “small but notable successes” in pro bono, and hours in the UK are increasing along with the firm’s size. “At MoFo we encourage practising lawyers to put something back into the community and so everyone is expected to do some pro bono work.”
Broadhurst suggested that the institutional push on pro bono within the firm has much to do with the fact that MoFo is a US-based firm. “Pro bono work is a requirement of the various bars we’re accountable to as a US firm, such as the American Bar Association and local bars in California and New York. MoFo is not unique in terms of its commitment, but we’re among the minority, especially in regards to pro bono being recorded and valued at the same status as client chargeable work.”