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A children’s playground in Elephant and Castle saved around £7,000 in legal costs when an in-house lawyer from Vodafone volunteered her time free of charge.
Vodafone’s assistant company secretary Lola Emetulu has been working with the Rockingham Estate Play Association (REPA) since January. She guided the REPA through its registration as a limited liability company, drafting its articles of association and company bylaws.
The REPA provides supervised activities and play facilities for children and has an organic garden designed to teach children about nature and being environmentally conscious.
Vodafone’s introduction to REPA came through LawWorks for Community Groups, the Solicitors Pro Bono Group initiative created to give non-contentious business law advice to charities and voluntary groups.
The in-house team
Vodafone’s legal department houses around 60 staff, located primarily in Newbury.
Pro bono activity for the in-house team started in early 2002, when it joined LawWorks for Community Groups. Until then, the in-house team was struggling with age-old problems. Vodafone’s principal solicitor Claire Carless says: “For those of us outside London there were limited opportunities for pro bono work and we deal in commercial legal advice, so we were never sure how to use our skills to carry out pro bono work.”
To allow the in-house lawyers to participate in pro bono work for external clients, LawWorks for Community Groups implemented an insurance scheme to cover the lawyers.
Vodafone is now looking at expanding its programme. Carless says: “We’re exploring two further options, including partnership with local Newbury firms, and working with Business in the Community, where lawyers sit on the management boards of charities.”
Vodafone has also provided financial support, and this year the Vodafone UK Foundation donated £50,000 per year for the next three years to LawWorks to help keep the initiative afloat. Cementing its commitment to the pro bono cause, it signed the Pro Bono Charter last week.
The Lawyer verdict
Pro bono work is not all fun and games. Emetulu says: “You have to be committed, and you have to understand that often the people you’re working with are volunteers with day jobs of their own.” But according to Carless, the benefits are manifold. “You’re living the company values, getting personal satisfaction out of using your skills to help people, and being exposed to clients you wouldn’t otherwise come across,” she says.
Law Society restrictions and niche areas of expertise often conspire to keep in-house teams out of the pro bono arena. But programmes such as LawWorks for Community Groups can help in-house lawyers overcome both barriers. LawWorks is an ideal starting point for in-house teams looking to do pro bono work. Vodafone’s current moves to diversify its programme and include work relevant to the local community are an example to other in-house teams.