International trainees launch Brussels’ first pro bono group

In an unusual show of solidarity, 10 trainees from nine international law firms have banded together under the newly-formed Brussels Pro Bono Project in order to investigate and initiate pro bono opportunities for UK lawyers and trainees based in Brussels.

The project, a collaboration between Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw (MBR&M) and the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG), was initiated by trainees from Clifford Chance, CMS Cameron McKenna, Coudert Brothers, Dechert, Eversheds, Linklaters, Lovells and Nabarro Nathanson. The trainees worked together on the first stage of the project, which was to canvas and coordinate the need, interest and support available for pro bono work.

MBR&M trainee Andrew Jackson first mooted the idea of investigating pro bono opportunities during a meeting between MBR&M pro bono partner Julia Dickins and SPBG chief executive Sue Bucknall. The meeting was in response to the lack of pro bono work available for the 100-plus UK lawyers and trainees based in Brussels.
Jackson, whose past pro bono work has included initiating his firm’s now permanent association with the Islington Law Centre, was interested in continuing his pro bono involvement during his seat in Brussels. However, largely due to the fact that the Brussels offices of international law firms are much smaller than their UK counterparts, there are limited pro bono opportunities available to UK trainees and lawyers working in the city. This project is the first ever attempt to address this.

Stage one, now completed, was to ensure fundamental pro bono elements were present in the Brussels legal community. The trainees first assessed the need for pro bono work, ensured there was interest from the legal community, and sought evidence that there was support available from the legal institutions. It became clear that the only element missing was a coordinating entity to organise projects.

Jackson is currently involved in writing a business plan for the project, to be released in October in Brussels, while the official launch is to take place in Maastricht at the European Convention for Volunteering in Europe in November. He said: “So far there have been very few market statistics on pro bono work. The business plan has involved more market research, including looking at such questions as the benefit of compulsory pro bono work as opposed to voluntary initiatives.”

The next stages of the project include drafting the business plan, sourcing funding and, finally, implementing the pro bono initiatives.
Hopes for the project’s future include movement beyond Brussels.
Jackson said: “Pro bono hasn’t really gone throughout Europe. Areas such as Eastern Europe would really benefit. Once the project is up and running, and all lawyers in the UK have access to our website, it could mean that high street solicitors could get involved in international pro bono work coordinated from Brussels.”