Dechert is gearing up to provide assistance in all its offices to human trafficking victims and organisations that help combat it. The programme was launched in 2002 in the US.
Trafficking involves forcing individuals, mainly women, into labour and prostitution outside their native countries.
In the US Dechert is providing direct representation of victims and helping to provide so-called ‘T-visas’, which enable trafficking victims to acquire permanent residency. It is also providing feedback on domestic and international legislation and collaborating with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in combating the problem.
US attorney Susan Selyzer, heading up the US effort, is involved with an anti-trafficking network with members from numerous charities and NGOs. It is helping to devise a more humane policy towards the treatment of victims. The network also reviews the US government’s management of cases and formulates guidelines for victims applying for benefits under the Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000.
In the UK, work is focused on legal research on national and international laws on trafficking for Anti-Slavery International. Susan Turner, co-chair of Dechert’s worldwide pro bono committee, said she hopes to soon expand the UK programme to include representation of victims. She also wants to expand the work in Belgium, which is currently restricted to providing legal research, and to launch programmes in all of the offices worldwide.
Clearly, the appointment of Susan Turner has had a huge impact on pro bono. This has coincided with some significant projects, particularly the Holocaust work and in post-war Afghanistan, where Dechert is assisting in the creation of new legislation. The firm’s work tends to stick mainly to legal rather than community matters.
Dechert’s lawyers notched up 32,000 hours of pro bono work in 2002, an increase of 12,500 on the previous year. This coincided with the appointment of Susan Turner, a US-qualified lawyer who handles only pro bono work. Some 549 Dechert fee-earners worldwide do pro bono work, of which 108 are London-based. Last year, London fee-earners completed 3,500 pro bono hours.
The firm has taken on an extra 100 pro bono matters in the last 18 months, including 75 lawyers working for Holocaust descendants and victims claiming a share of the $12.5bn (£7.78bn) set aside by Swiss banks as a result of a 1999 settlement. The banks were found to have kept the savings of victims. Each lawyer handled hundreds of the claims, of which 580,000 expect to be submitted.
The firm also assists a wide range of organisations, including the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Assistance includes legislation drafting and providing multijurisdictional law research. It also assists several lawyers’ associations, including the Pakistan Women Lawyers’ Association, the plight of which has been the subject of various International Bar Association conferences.