The Solicitors' Pro Bono Group (SPBG) is about to launch its first scheme specifically for corporate lawyers.
The scheme, which is part of the SPBG's LawWorks programme, aims to provide free corporate law advice to charities, voluntary sector organisations and community groups. Magic circle firms, including Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and DLA, have already signed up to the scheme. It will be run by the SPBG's first salaried coordinator Heidi Newbiggin, who was appointed as project manager of the LawWorks programme last week. She has just resigned from her post as an assistant solicitor at Clyde & Co to work full time for the SPBG. One of her main duties will be to attract corporate lawyers to this particular scheme. Pro bono legal work has traditionally involved either litigation or the provision of general legal advice at local authority law centres. SPBG chairman Paul Newdick said neither of these areas was particularly suited to the corporate lawyer, although there was a need for their largely untapped skills. "We have noticed a desire among corporate lawyers to get involved in pro bono work, but their skills don't match law centre work or litigation," he said. "Small charities, like large companies, need legal advice about their structure, their governance and their tax policies. This is an area where corporate lawyers could really help." Research conducted by The Lawyer shows that corporate partners, assistants and trainees are willing to participate in such a scheme. "As long as my firm was in support of the idea, I'd definitely be willing to give charities and community groups regular advice," said one. "It's important that small charities and community groups get to benefit from corporate lawyers' expertise." Only one corporate lawyer contacted had reservations about whether the scheme could attract regular participants. When involved in deals, corporate lawyers are unable to commit to anything other than their clients, he said, so regular pro bono work is difficult. The scheme starts in the London Borough of Southwark in September.