US firms in London set to launch joint initiative on pro bono work

US firms in London are planning to team up for a raft of joint initiatives – starting off with a link-up in pro bono work.

A group of managing partners from US firms are meeting regularly to discuss potential ventures where they can work alongside each other.

The first concrete example is a US pro bono team, but the group has also talked about sharing trainees so that firms with strengths in particular practice areas can lead training schemes.

The pro bono initiative involves 15 US firms with a central co-ordinating function to dish out work. The firms are targeting non-legal pro bono schemes because the project is aimed at US-qualified lawyers who cannot practise local law.

Instead the lawyers involved are working on schemes such as the refurbishment of community centres and play areas. Eventually, they want to become involved in other projects, such as helping young entrepreneurs develop their businesses.

Matt Hurlock, the corporate partner at Kirkland & Ellis who is co-ordinating the initiative, says: “There's a group of partners at American firms that has met on occasion to discuss things of common interest. One of the things they could agree on was to do pro bono.”

Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy London managing partner Phillip Fletcher says: “Americans can't really do English law pro bono, and because of our size it's difficult for us to manage our own pro bono. We are pretty enthusiastic about this.”

The other firms involved include New York giants such as Davis Polk & Wardwell, Debevoise & Plimpton, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Sullivan & Cromwell and White & Case.

The other main players are Brobeck Hale and Dorr, Buchanan Ingersoll, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Latham & Watkins, Mayer Brown & Platt, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, O'Melveny & Myers and Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker.

Hurlock says the initiative will eventually roll out into practising English law, with a separate project for the English qualified lawyers in the US firms. A meeting was held last week to discuss the potential.

At the moment the group is working alongside the Prince's Trust and an organisation called Community Service Volunteers.

Hurlock says: “It's trying to provide a clearing house for ideas – we agree on opportunities and farm them out to firms. We ask for volunteers from the firms, they give us names and then we are going to try to do a one-day event in each quarter.”