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Q+A-"Acute" global need for pro bono demands creative response

by Rebekah Curtis | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 22 November 2012 14:48 GMT

Law firms can do more to help social enterprises support development, says Hogan Lovells' international pro bono manager

LONDON (TrustLaw) - Global economic woes have sharpened the need for pro bono work in both low-income and developed countries, according to law firm Hogan Lovells.

In a written interview its international pro bono manager, Yasmin Waljee, tells TrustLaw about the firm’s pro bono work and why it makes sense for law firms to support social enterprises:

Are you seeing changing trends in the reach of pro bono worldwide?

With the global (economic) slowdown, the need for pro bono assistance in both low-income and developed countries is acute - the demand is certainly there, the challenge is for law firms to respond creatively, whether through direct legal support to beneficiaries or helping others to scale up their services in the field of access to justice. I don't think there is a country in the world where pro bono services would not be well received. It is our challenge to find a way to improve our reach and impact.


On what issues does Hogan Lovells focus its pro bono work?

Pro bono at Hogan Lovells is focused on ensuring an impact for those in need in a diverse range of areas, from international human rights and international development to the issues around access to justice which are often not high profile but are vital to alleviate anxiety and restore a sense of dignity.


What legal areas has Hogan Lovells covered in its pro bono support for social enterprises?

We have a partner-led practice group established to coordinate our legal work in this area as it covers a diverse range of issues from IP (intellectual property), corporate structuring, finance and funds work, to the preparation of documentation supporting social investments.


What proportion of the firm’s pro bono work is dedicated to supporting social enterprises?

Traditionally pro bono was often the preserve of the litigators, now roughly half our work is for social enterprises.


Are the social enterprises Hogan Lovells helps pro bono more often non-profit or for-profit?

They are a mix - for us, eligibility is about considering what impact the organisation is going to have.  If they operate at the more commercial end of the spectrum, then we will consider doing the work at lower rates and potentially on a deferred basis.


What is the origin of the firm’s strong focus on supporting social enterprises?

About 10 years ago, I met an inspiring entrepreneur, Charlotte di Vita, in a small and dusty workshop in (the London Borough of) Sutton who was selling miniature collectible teapots designed and manufactured in Thailand by single mums without work. Charlotte used the brand she had created through the quality of her work to ensure that employment conditions in her workshops were good, and  the income generated from the business was reinvested into the low-income communities to improve the lives of her employees. 

Charlotte went on to grow the business using the artwork and power of celebrity so that it generated over $1 million a year for communities worldwide. Her example inspired me to find out more about the unsung heroes who want to apply a business strategy to social issues and use the market to extend their impact.


Do you think social enterprises worldwide get enough recognition from law firms doing pro bono work?

Working with social entrepreneurs is challenging and rewarding. It also has the advantage of being able to tap in to the expertise of lawyers in commercial firms. We've worked on projects involving the provision of sanitation for the urban poor in Ghana, to helping an NGO create local employment through the establishment (of) 17 veterinary practices improving the health of livestock and the livelihoods of rural farmers in Kenya.

In our view, there is so much untapped potential to support international development through social enterprise that it makes sense for law firms to engage with this sector… There is so much creativity in the sector that I can't imagine why any law firm would not seek out such rewarding pro bono opportunities.




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