Lawyers unite to promote pro bono

Today (7 November) sees the start of National Pro Bono Week.


Michael Smyth, Dominic Grieve
Michael Smyth, Dominic Grieve

To herald the seven days of events, Hogan Lovells recently held a gathering of eminent lawyers ­hosted by Attorney-General Dominic Grieve QC to mark the launch of another high-profile pro bono ­initiative.

The International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP) is a scheme aimed at encouraging ­senior and veteran lawyers to engage in international legal work for free.

On the night of its launch (17 October), Grieve stressed the importance of senior lawyers ­promoting human rights and the rule of law around the world, adding that “economic development will not take place without progress in these areas”.

The launch celebrated the joining together of the legacy UK International Lawyers Project (ILP, now known as ISLP-UK), with the global network of non-profit pro bono organisations – namely the New York-based ISLP and its European arm, Paris-based ISLP-Europe.

The idea of creating a global ­network is simple. The ISLP hopes to expand its membership, enhancing the capacity of each part to fulfil its common mission of capturing the resources and expertise of experienced lawyers and top firms around the globe.

Since 2000 the ISLP has been undertaking a wide range of pro bono projects in more than 40 countries. These include legal aid and criminal law reform in Haiti, reform of mining codes and ­workshops on best practice in the extractive industries in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and juvenile justice projects in China.

The British end of the organisation, ISLP-UK, has been involved in a legal education project with the sole law school in Tanzania, sending experienced lawyers to deliver legal training modules to Tanzanian law students and local lecturers.

This year, five teams of ­volunteers travelled to Dar es Salaam to deliver training in civil procedure, advocacy skills, ­criminal procedure and legal drafting to 200 law students.

ISLP-UK, which operates out of Clifford Chance’s Canary Wharf offices, is headed by UK-qualified human rights lawyer Fouzia Javaid. The Cleary Gottleib Steen & Hamilton associate has acted as lead counsel on cases relating to the mistreatment of Iraqi civilians by UK armed forces.

Javaid also worked pro bono for human rights organisation Reprieve in Islamabad, assisting with litigation on behalf of Pakistani civilians detained in that country and Afghanistan.

Several new trustees have recently been appointed to the UK board, now chaired by retired ­Clifford Chance partner Michael Smyth.

Smyth believes that ISLP-UK’s core mission is to engage senior lawyers nearing the end of their careers who have passed up pro bono opportunities.

“There’s a tendency to believe that pro bono work is something to be done by somebody else,” Smyth argues. “Corporate lawyers think it should be carried out by the litigators, senior partners think it’s a nice thing for the ’youngsters’ to do and law firm managers’ duties stop at sanctioning pro bono.”

Pro bono should be an ­inextricable part of the business of lawyering just as adhering to the Hippocratic Oath is an ­obligation undertaken by every doctor, Smyth maintains.

“In a time when age discrimination has been outlawed, ISLP-UK aims to plug a gap and extend lawyers’ working lives by ­mobilising the best talent and most ­experienced minds to cater for ­legislative needs in the ­developing world and elsewhere,” he says.

Nicholas Cheffings, fellow trustee and head of Hogan Lovells’ real estate disputes team, stresses that the initiative is a great opportunity for retired lawyers who still have a lot to give to get involved in real projects and real law.

“ISLP is different from other pro bono organisations because it draws on the skills and experience of senior lawyers who have been there and done that, and for whom there’s no lead-in time before they can be up and running and ­helping our partner organisations in a meaningful way with ­challenging projects,” he says.

Cheffings lists the numerous ways senior lawyers can get involved with, or contribute to, ISLP-UK’s cause.

“Senior lawyers can make themselves known to our organisation as potential volunteers, draw our attention to international projects where they believe ISLP’s services might be valuable, assist with fundraising or encourage their firms and businesses to donate to ISLP,” he concludes.