the Leader column

How pleasant it is to see law firms displaying the Christmas spirit. A recent double-page advertisement in the FT on behalf of Crisis named all the firms which had donated their Christmas card budgets to the homeless charity. Such are lawyers’ delicate dispositions that they wouldn’t want to shout about how much they give to ‘charidee’ – except through huge tombstone ads. So it is our bounden duty to reveal here that Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance and Linklaters & Alliance each donated £20,000; Ashurst Morris Crisp, Denton Wilde Sapte, Mayer Brown & Platt and SJ Berwin all gave £10,000; and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Nicholson Graham & Jones each stumped up £2,000.

Without sounding cynical, it is a nice proposition – feel good about donating to a good cause, and get a huge spread in the business press into the bargain. (One can only wonder at the startling omission of Freshfields and Slaughter and May; no doubt they were just too busy organising soup kitchens to contribute.)

Of course, corporate giving is riddled with ironies such as these – the three-way tussle between altruism, guilt and self-satisfaction. So, in an effort to help you ease your consciences further, how about this as a proposition.

Just bordering the City is Islington, a borough positively groaning with corporate lawyers. Yet the placid clink of glasses in the drawing rooms of Canonbury hardly prepares you for the fact that Islington is the tenth most deprived borough in the country. One of the very few sources of help and advice is the Islington Law Centre, just a couple of miles from the heart of the City. Harrassed, single-minded and hard-working, the nine-strong legal team fields up to 50 new enquiries a day, many of them on housing and homelessness issues. It needs new premises – the building is cramped, and doesn’t offer confidential interview space.

In other words, no different from any other law centre, eh? Except that this one has a £150,000 funding shortfall, and may have to cut staff. This is despite the fact that it can only help a fraction of the people who come in, and that the need for legal advice is ballooning.

Who knows – perhaps those firms left out of the Crisis ad might want to spare Islington Law Centre a festive cheque. Just a seasonal thought.