TrustLaw FAQs for NGOs & Social Enterprises
Who can apply to join TrustLaw?
01. Your vetting criteria state that TrustLaw only supports organisations working towards a social mission that seeks to address social, humanitarian or environmental challenges. How do I know if my organisation is addressing one of these challenges?
All organisations that apply for TrustLaw membership must have a clear social mission that states: who they aim to help; how they plan to do it; the impact they are trying to achieve; and how they will measure this impact. TrustLaw’s eligibility criteria are illustrative of those we encourage to join our network. The criteria are broad to enable a variety of organisations to apply. Additional guidance is as follows:
• Social: Organisations that seek to have a positive impact on the social fabric of the community and well-being of individuals and families. This may include organisations that support disadvantaged populations, uphold human rights and address discrimination.
• Humanitarian: Organisations responding to humanitarian emergencies such as natural and man-made disasters with a primary objective of saving lives, alleviating suffering and maintaining human dignity.
• Environmental: Organisations that seek to protect, analyse or monitor endangered species or the environment against misuse or degradation.
For additional information about our eligibility criteria and the information requested of applicants, please see our Membership Application Reference Document.
02. Can I apply for membership if my organisation is religious?
TrustLaw supports faith-based organisations if their charitable services are not limited to one particular religious group. We do not support organisations that proselytize through their work.
03. You say that you require organisations to be independent from the government, but what if we receive funding from the government?
Organisations that are partly funded by government agencies are welcome to apply for membership. We will consider other factors, such as your governance structure to determine your affiliation with the government.
04. My organisation is a think tank, professional association, industry body or consultancy, but we are also a registered charity or social enterprise. Can we apply to be members of TrustLaw?
In general, TrustLaw is not able to facilitate pro bono legal assistance for professional associations, industry organisations, consultancies or for-profit impact investment fund managers.
05. Is being a member of TrustLaw and accessing legal support really free?
TrustLaw is entirely free. There are no costs for NGOs, social enterprises or legal teams.
06. Can I receive support if my organisation is not yet registered?
All organisations that apply for TrustLaw membership must be registered in one jurisdiction prior to applying. We generally ask that organisations can demonstrate they have been registered for at least twelve months. However, we can provide legal support if your organisation is expanding into a new region and requires additional registration advice. Due to the large amount of requests we have received concerning registration, we have also developed a number of registration guides. To read these guides please visit our Publications page.
07. What is an NGO?
A non-governmental organisation (NGO) is a legally constituted corporation that operates independently from any form of government. NGOs are generally non-profits, charities, voluntary citizens' groups, or societies which are organised on a local, national or international level.
08. What supporting evidence will I need to provide when I apply to TrustLaw?
We ask for copies of your organisation’s registration documents, and these can be uploaded as part of your TrustLaw online application. If the documents are too large to be uploaded as files, they can be emailed as attachments to firstname.lastname@example.org - please state the name and jurisdiction of your organisation in the email subject line. As well as the registration documents, we recommend providing as much evidence as possible regarding your organisation’s social mission, for example founding documents.
Organisations are also asked to submit an annual report or similar document which details their impact and, ideally, financial standing. This could also take the form of a pitch deck or a donor report.
09. What is a social enterprise?
The Thomson Reuters Foundation defines a social enterprise as a business that trades for a social, humanitarian or environmental purpose and reinvests more than half its profits back into its social mission. The business will have a clear social mission that states: who it aims to help; how it plans to do it; the impact it is trying to achieve; and how it will measure its impact.
10. Can I apply for membership if my social enterprise is a for-profit organisation?
TrustLaw supports social enterprises that are established as not-for-profit or for-profit organisations. However, to become a member of TrustLaw for-profit social enterprises must demonstrate they reinvest the majority of their profits to support their social mission. They need to provide reasonable, documented evidence, such as governing documents, articles of association, or other publicly available information, that note the continual reinvestment of profits into the social mission, or donation of profits to a third party non-profit. This may be demonstrated through a golden share or asset lock. If your organisation does not currently have such commitments codified in your governing documents or corporate structure, TrustLaw may be able to find assistance to help you do so.
11. My organisation leads a network of NGOs and/or social enterprises that might benefit from the TrustLaw service. How can I help them access your service?
TrustLaw partners with organisations that support NGOs or social enterprises with grants, awards, fellowships or membership. We call these organisations ‘Referral Partners’. These partners are invited to refer their own members / grantees / award winners / fellows for membership of TrustLaw.
Referral partnership is open to organisations that are registered as a legal entity in compliance with local requirements or authorities; Support or work with members / grantees / award winners / fellows that are directly working towards a social mission that seeks to address social, humanitarian or environmental challenges; and conduct due diligence before approving their members / grantees / award winners / fellows that meets the requirements of the TrustLaw due diligence criteria for NGOs and social enterprises.
Free legal assistance
12. My social enterprise supports NGOs and other social enterprises with services such as training and consultancies on a paid basis, can I apply for membership?
TrustLaw recognises the vital services businesses offer NGOs and social enterprises. However, unless set up with a non-profit structure, consultancy and training providers are not eligible for TrustLaw membership.
13. What type of legal requests can I request support for as a member of TrustLaw?
TrustLaw supports a variety of legal requests, from the simple to the more complex. The projects we work on range from everyday legal matters that arise for our NGOs and social enterprises such as general commercial advice, IP, and employment issues to large multi-jurisdictional programmes, such as researching laws across a number of jurisdictions or assisting with an in-depth analysis of laws. You can see examples of what other organisations have posted by logging in to your account.
14. What types of legal requests am I not able to request support for?
TrustLaw welcomes a wide range of projects, however there are certain requests that we do not accept. This includes:
• Advocacy on behalf of organisations or individuals
• Legal assistance for individuals
• Requests for pro bono assistance on behalf of a third party, unless otherwise agreed with our team. The organisation requesting the assistance should be a vetted member of TrustLaw
• Any cases that we deem to be against the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles or our code of ethics
• Litigation, disputes and disagreements
• Visa applications or advice related to work permits/visas for employees
• Administrative or tax issues that are unrelated to a legal issue/question
• Urgent assistance. There is a minimum one month waiting period before we can connect you to a lawyer.
• Practical enforcement or effectiveness of laws and policies that require a subjective opinion, or access to police/government statistics.
• Business decisions (For example: Which country should I set up my company in?)
• Translations of documents.
15. Do I have to use TrustLaw right away or is there a timeframe within which I have to use it?
You do not have to use TrustLaw immediately and you will not lose your membership after a certain time if you do not use it. The service is available as and when your legal needs arise. However, please note that we do re-vet members from time to time to ensure that their circumstances have not changed and that they are still eligible to use the TrustLaw service. If you have not used the service for some time, we may need to re-vet your organisation.
16. Where does TrustLaw work?
TrustLaw works in over 175 countries around the world and whilst our legal network is smaller in some countries than others, we will always do our best to secure you assistance, as long as your projects meet our eligibility criteria set out above. You can request legal assistance across more than one jurisdiction.
17. How long will it take to find free legal assistance?
On average, it takes approximately one month to find free legal assistance. The timeframe depends on the capacity of lawyers to assist with pro bono work which may be influenced by various factors, including, for example: the country where pro bono assistance is sought, the complexity of the project and the time of year.
18. What are my chances of receiving an offer of assistance?
We have a 95% connection success rate. However, in some countries pro bono legal assistance is not commonly offered and so your project may be harder to connect. The TrustLaw legal team will advise you if this is the case during your call with them. In this event, it is normal for such projects to take a couple of months to be connected.
19. Is my legal request confidential?
Yes. When you submit a request for legal assistance, you will be asked whether you want your project to be visible to other NGOs. If you do not agree to this, your project will only be visible to the lawyers in our network. Lawyers are not only bound by professional ethics to keep their clients’ legal matters confidential but are also bound by TrustLaw’s Terms and Conditions which require lawyers to keep TrustLaw projects confidential, unless otherwise agreed with the client.
Submitting a request for assistance
20. Can I post my TrustLaw project on other pro bono service providers/clearinghouses’ websites?
We ask that you do not post the same project elsewhere until at least a month has passed from the date your project was posted on the TrustLaw website, and then only after consultation with the TrustLaw team. This helps us avoid a doubling up of resources within the pro bono community and to ensure that lawyers are not disappointed when a project suddenly becomes unavailable. Please inform us as soon as possible if you do decide to seek assistance elsewhere.
21. What is the process to submit an offer of assistance?
1. Organisations can apply for TrustLaw membership via apply.trust.org
2. The membership application will be vetted by the TrustLaw team. You will be notified within two weeks of the outcome.
3. If approved for membership, you will be sent a login to the TrustLaw web portal where you can submit a request for legal assistance.
4. The TrustLaw legal team will set up a call with you to discuss the legal request.
5. Following the call, the request for assistance will be edited, with your approval, and then posted on our secure website. Our network of law firm members will be able to see your project and make offers of assistance.
6. After one week of the project being posted, TrustLaw will advise if you have had any offers of assistance from a legal team.
7. There is no need to log in to your account to check for offers, the TrustLaw team will email you if you have received an offer. If you do not hear from us, it means that you have not yet received any offers.
8. If you have received one offer or more, please select which legal team you would like to work with within 48 hours. We will introduce you to the legal team by email and you will then start working with the legal team on the project.
9. If you have not had any offers of assistance after one week, TrustLaw will continue to seek free legal assistance for up to three months. We cannot guarantee that you will receive an offer.
10. Following the introduction to the legal team, TrustLaw will check in with you and the legal team to ensure the legal project is progressing and provide support if required.
At the end of the project you will be asked to provide feedback to TrustLaw about using the TrustLaw service.
Please also refer to this guide which outlines your responsibilities throughout the duration of the project.
22. How many projects can I have posted?
You are welcome to submit a maximum of 3 requests for legal assistance at any one time. Once one out of the three posted projects is connected, you can submit another request for legal assistance. Sometimes multiple legal issues can be included in one project, if the issues are related (e.g. drafting a commercial contract and corporate structuring advice) and this can be discussed during your call with the TrustLaw legal team. We are not able to post requests that involve ongoing legal advice.
23. My legal needs have changed. Can I change my project description after it has been posted?
Lawyers who offer to assist with a project will perform the work specifically described in the project description. The offer to assist is not open-ended. If you require additional assistance, please submit a new request for legal assistance on TrustLaw. If you have not yet received an offer for your project, please contact the TrustLaw team and we can amend your project description.
24. What do I do if I have forgotten my user name and/or password?
Your user name is the email address that you first used to register with TrustLaw. If you have forgotten your password, just click the ‘Forgot password’ button on the TrustLaw log in page. A temporary password will be emailed to you. If you experience problems logging in, please try changing your internet browser. If that does not work, please send us an email at email@example.com.
25. I receive an error message when I try to login in to my TrustLaw account – how can I get support?
If you experience any problems logging into your TrustLaw account with your correct username and password, and the problem persists when you attempt this in a different browser, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, with a screenshot of the error and we will come back as soon as possible to resolve the issue. You can also include details of the request you are trying to submit in the email and we will upload this to our system from our side so the project is not delayed.
26. How do I add contacts to my organisation’s TrustLaw account?
If you have other colleagues you’d like to add to your account, you can use the “Invite Colleagues” tab which appears at the top of your screen once you have logged in. This will send your colleague an automatic email from our system, from where they can set up login details. This email is sometimes directed to spam, so please check this folder. Once this process is complete your colleague will have their own unique set of login details to the organisation’s Trustlaw account, and can submit requests for assistance on behalf of the organisation.
27. What firms do you have in each country and can you recommend a particular firm?
A list of our firms is available on our website at www.trust.org. This list only includes firms that have agreed for their names to be mentioned publically. We will not advise you on which law firm to select to work on your project but we are happy to answer questions about the selection process. Additionally, the websites of the law firms can be used to help you in making a more informed decision about how they can help you meet your legal needs. If you are seeking a firm on a fee-paying basis, we cannot refer you to particular firms.
28. If TrustLaw is not able to support my legal request, who can?
There are a number of other organisations that may be able to help you find assistance such as i-ProBono or PILnet: the Global Network for Public Interest Law.
29. My question isn’t included above, who should I contact?
You are welcome to contact the person who introduced you to TrustLaw, or otherwise, please email: email@example.com and a member of the TrustLaw team will get back to you.