A budding photographer and a family business about to employ its first staff are among the many clients at Hackney Legal Connections, the latest pro bono initiative from Linklaters.
Set up in partnership with Hackney Community Law Centre, HBV Enterprise and Hackney Voluntary Action, Legal Connections provides free legal advice to small businesses and community groups that would otherwise be unable to afford it.
Around 50 Linklaters lawyers have volunteered for the programme, in which lawyers attend fortnightly advice sessions. They offer advice in a range of areas, including property and employment law, as well as general corporate and commercial advice on setting up a small business.
Lawyers from the employment, real estate and tax groups are all involved, although corporate has fielded a particularly large team. Pro bono coordinator Sarah Barnes believes the work offers a welcome change of scenery for fee-earners. "This isn't the type of client Linklaters lawyers normally see," she said. Even intellectual property (IP) lawyers have been involved, advising a local photographer on his IP rights. The initiative, according to Barnes, is designed to promote regeneration in the area through supporting local businesses.
Emma Aynsley, volunteer services coordinator at the Hackney Community Law Centre, agrees. "There are many small businesses and community groups in Hackney which play a vital role in the regeneration of the area. However, without access to free legal advice, many of these groups struggle to survive."
Three main aims drive Linklaters' pro bono programme – to promote access to justice, encourage social and economic regeneration and to promote education and training. The firm works in partnership with law centres across London, including the Mary Ward Centre, Southwark Law Centre, the Royal Courts of Justice Citizens Advice Bureau and the Disability Law Service.
Sarah Barnes meets regularly with the directors of the law centres to ensure that the firm's contribution is meaningful. Linklaters also offers training, IT advice and support and management and accounts assistance. On the education front, the firm has been famously linked to the Citizenship Foundation – the charity aimed at promoting participation in government and society through education. Thirty-nine per cent of the firm's UK fee-earners are involved in some sort of pro bono activity, almost half of which are partners. Each practice group also has a dedicated partner who supports the pro bono work of lawyer within the group. The result is that last year the firm's lawyers devoted a total of 13,619 hours to pro bono work.
The Lawyer verdict
Initiatives such as Hackney Legal Connections address the traditional problem of the disputes-driven pro bono programme by allowing transactional lawyers from across the firm to use their skill to benefit the community. This is a robust and diverse programme that makes use of the manifold skills of Liklaters' staff.