September 2023: "With pro bono, you are given the opportunity to take the lead and develop your skillset as a lawyer," says London associate Steph Lartey. "As a trainee, I was immediately able to interview pro bono clients, work with third-party organisations to collect evidence and to draft application documents and witness statements."
Sophie Orr is Senior Manager for Pro Bono and Global Citizenship and oversees pro bono work for lawyers in London. She says that in addition to the development of professional skills, pro bono work is an opportunity to connect lawyers with issues that matter to them on a personal level.
She adds, "We have longstanding relationships with global organisations such as the United Nations and the International Federation of the Red Cross, right through to local law centres in London and grassroots charities across the UK. Whether you're a first-seat trainee or a partner, working on a pro bono matter means that you can use your legal skills to make a difference to charities and individuals in need."
A pro bono secondment supporting Ukrainian refugees
Pro bono matters vary, from contributing a few hours on a single piece of work to full-time secondments to White & Case's pro bono clients. Associate Oliver Dean joined Safe Passage International in Warsaw, Poland to advise refugees from Ukraine on accessing UK's Ukraine schemes.
He says that it was a profoundly humbling experience: "Being on the ground in Warsaw and helping those refugees who have tragically been forced to flee not only their homes, lives and loved ones, but everything they once held dear, was extremely humbling and puts a great deal into perspective." He goes on to say: "The most satisfying aspect of this project was securing a new home and host family in the UK for a mother and her two young children."
Professional development as a lawyer
Despite the importance of this work, Oliver notes that the experience helped with his professional development too: "Not only did the secondment introduce me to a completely new area of law, but I was also able to develop skills that will benefit my work in the future. In particular, the chance to have time in front of the client, learning how to effectively communicate and empathise, will be invaluable in my career."
He also notes that helping drive the growth of this newly established legal clinic has sharpened his networking and business-development skills: "We needed to think innovatively to grow the reach of the clinic in order to help as many refugees as possible. By connecting with other NGOs in Warsaw and adopting different advertising strategies, we were able to effectively spread the word of the clinic's capabilities, and assist greater numbers of refugees."
A chance to give back
For Steph, the chance to work on a collaborative project with other firms and Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit that helps victims of the Windrush scandal apply for compensation has been personally rewarding. "Over the past two years, it has been amazing to see the impact our pro bono work has had. For many, talking to our lawyers and putting together a timeline of events in the form of a witness statement was the first time they could process the impact the Windrush scandal had on their lives."
Living our Firm values
Sophie believes that the Firm's values (pioneering, united and human) are at the heart of global pro bono efforts. Oliver says that he encountered 'pioneering' as soon as he arrived in Warsaw: "I was part of the first team of volunteers on the ground assisting Safe Passage International. It is clear that the Firm prides itself on being at the forefront of change and is eager to support those it can as soon as possible, in the best way they see fit, anywhere around the world."
The final word goes to Steph: "Pro bono isn't seen as an afterthought here at White & Case, it's an instrumental part of our day-to-day. It feels great to be able to contribute by working on pro bono projects I am truly passionate about."