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Aspiring film-makers and producers are finding their path to cinematic success a little easier, thanks to the work of Richards Butler’s media lawyers.
The New Producers Alliance (NPA) offers frustrated film-makers free legal advice over the telephone. Lawyers from Richards Butler staff the hotline, providing each member an hour of advice on copyright, financing and other media issues.
Richards Butler media lawyer Neil Gillard has been with the New Producers’ Alliance since its inception. For Gillard, the major difference between his paying clients and those at the NPA is the lack of sophistication of the latter. “The clients at the NPA are looking for answers to basic questions, and for advice on how to approach financiers. They’re incredibly grateful for the help you give them. Without the free advice, they would really have struggled.”
But altruism can have its benefits. Richards Butler’s pro bono partner Michael Skrein said: “Some of the producers have gone on to become good clients who even pay us.”
Among the films born because of the NPA are Waking Ned and Welcome to Sarajevo.
The firm’s pro bono work does not stop at the NPA. Long-running ties with homeless charity St Botolph’s sees lawyers offer advice to homeless people at weekly sessions at the Aldgate Advice Centre.
In partnership with human rights and civil liberties charity Liberty, Richards Butler lawyers take matters on a case-by-case basis. Skrein insists that commercial lawyers have much to offer a human rights charity. “We’re advising on tax issues, rights of way and property issues, as well as more predictable matters such as employment. Human rights and civil liberties are much broader than many people think,” says Skrein.
Richards Butler lawyers are helping Liberty with its first stage of case review, assessing the merits of cases to determine whether the charity will pursue them. The association has brought fame to both sides – two years ago, the pair celebrated victory in the McLibel 2 case.
Meanwhile, the Tower Hamlets reading programme engages lawyers and non-lawyers in community activity.
Skrein says: “We try to spread the pro bono activity so that we don’t do just dispute work.” The firm’s new pro bono coordinator Jumana Rahmen says that the firm is now looking to engage in partnerships with clients to deliver services on a pro bono basis.
The Lawyer verdict
Richards Butler offers a robust and diverse programme that engages both lawyers and non-lawyers in interesting, worthwhile pro bono activity. Projects such as the NPA and work for Liberty are sexy enough to attract hordes of recruits, while the Aldgate Advice Centre gives the firm’s lawyers a chance to work for clients they might otherwise never meet. A fine example of what can be achieved with commitment and a little imagination.