What about Pro Bono in Spain?

Friday, 22 July 2016 10:39 GMT

REUTERS/Victor Fraile

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Emerging trends: clearing houses and legal clinics

A gratifying trend emerging in Spain over recent years is the appointment of an increasing number of clearinghouses (“centros de coordinación Pro Bono”) which connect lawyers and NGOs. In our country, they play an important role in promoting and delivering pro bono assistance to poor and vulnerable communities.

Another emerging trend refers to legal clinics - training spaces focused on providing services to the community by working on real cases. At present, more than 10 legal clinics have been set up in Spain, which combine law education with legal assistance in real cases of social interest.

Coverage of legislative gaps

It is worth highlighting that pro bono works help cover the existing legislative gaps. A proof of this is the significant improvement in the Social Security field for NGOs, as they are now exempted from including medical insurance for aid workers (“cooperantes”) within their contributions to the Social Security System.

Until now, NGOs were forced to contribute to the costs derived from the aid workers’ medical insurances in the event that the workers’ destination country lacked a bilateral agreement with Spain.

The cost arising from these contributions amounted to about 5 million euros. Consequently, this new exemption translates in a substantial saving for Spanish NGOs.

Participation rates

Although there is a growing number of pro bono providers each year, the participation rate in Spain is still low compared to Anglo-Saxon countries, due to, among other reasons, the potential providers’ lack of knowledge (a research conducted in 2014 confirmed that only half of the Spanish lawyers were familiar with pro bono).

Pro bono arrived in Spain through international law firms, which include pro bono works within their corporate culture. However, local law firms have recently added the promotion of pro bono activities among its associates as one of their social responsibility targets.

Companies, other than law firms, also encourage lawyers to participate in pro bono activities. As an example, Hewlett Packard Enterprise aims to attain at least a 50 percent global participation rate with an average of 15 hours of service per lawyer .


Conclusions

In my opinion, the emergence of new pro bono trends and the growth of pro bono providers will hopefully lead to an increase in the participation rate in Spain over the coming years.

As a regular pro bono provider, I firmly believe that volunteering is one of the most rewarding experiences to enjoy in our professional career, though I also consider that companies should encourage and reward lawyers’ participation in pro bono activities.

Almudena Santos - Legal counsel at Hewlett Packard Enterprise