Pro Bono in Germany

by Mathias Fischer, Latham & Watkins LLP | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 22 May 2015 13:50 GMT

The Reichstag building, Berlin. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

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Every year, German lawyers, particularly those in small local firms and large international firms provide several hundreds of thousands of hours of legal counselling free of charge. While pro bono activity in Germany tends to be lower than the European average, according to the TrustLaw Index 2015, it is nevertheless quite common for German attorneys to develop and maintain a pro bono practice.

Unlike many countries, Germany has a state legal aid system that provides support and coun-sel to individuals without the means to pay. Since the poor’s need for free legal services is less pronounced, the typical German pro bono client is an NGO focussing on community development, offering support to low-income individuals, or specializing in human rights. Many lawyers get involved in pro bono work in conjunction with volunteering with non-profit organizations in their free time. In addition, law schools have begun to run legal clinics which are focussed on small matters, giving law students an opportunity to work on real life situations and helping foster a culture of pro bono and social responsibility.

Four years ago, several international law firms and a number of smaller law firms founded “Pro Bono Deutschland,” an organisation that promotes pro bono culture in Germany. The members of Pro Bono Deutschland recently helped to create Germany’s first pro bono clear-inghouse. The clearinghouse serves as an intermediary between NGOs and attorneys at law firms of all sizes, and is starting to play a significant role in spreading pro bono in Germany.

The burgeoning pro bono culture in Germany needs to be seen against the background of the dynamic development of corporate responsibility. Many law firm clients have made corporate responsibility a priority, and law firms want to be part of this development. Therefore, it can be expected that German attorneys will continue

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