By Anna Kam
The UCL CAJ Student Pro Bono Committee held its first collaborative event with King’s College London Pro Bono Society and the UCL Law Society on 28th October 2021, which concerned pro bono work that is done at city law firms. This is the first time the 3 societies have worked together to organise an event, and its aim was to expose our members to different areas of pro bono work undertaken by law firms in the city. The theme for the panel was international reach, and much of the discussion was centred around international efforts by firms to tackle issues relating to the refugee crisis, racial justice work, responses to the pandemic and many more.
We had 4 speakers coming from different firms to discuss their pro bono initiatives: Ms. Aditi Kapoor, the Pro Bono Legal Officer at Allen & Overy; Ms. Yasmin Waljee, the International Pro Bono Partner at Hogan Lovells; Mr. Sam Harris, a Lawyer at Clifford Chance, and Mr. Daniel Adeyimi, a Representative from DLA Piper. They each spoke in turn of the pro bono work done at their respective firms, followed by a question-and-answer session afterwards.
Aditi Kapoor (Allen & Overy)
Aditi spoke about the firm’s many pro bono initiatives, including their anti-racism and racial justice work. The work the firm has done is incredibly wide-ranging, from preparing race-equity resource guides for pro bono workers, to analysing systemic racism to understand where prejudice and discrimination comes from and advising on policy and legal changes needed to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement in the broader criminal justice system. Aditi gave us insights into the future of pro bono work, and she believed that there will be an increased amount of work in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) as well as in business and Human Rights practice in law. She opined that it is an “interesting time to consider law firm pro bono work” and encouraged UCL students to consider pursuing pro bono work after graduating, just as she did.
Yasmin Waljee (Hogan Lovells)
Yasmin shared the core importance of pro bono work at her firm. In particular, she drew attention to the international program that serves NGOs, communities, and people in need around the world, and the fact that much of their work seeks to encourage sustainable development in line with the United Nation’s sustainable development goals. She talked about the firm’s recent work with the Paralympic Committee and African nations, which seeks to break down stigma associated with people with disabilities through broadcasting Paralympic Games held in Tokyo to different countries. She encouraged students to pursue pro bono work and left us with an insightful motto that she resonates with: “There are two great days in life: the day that you are born and the day that you know why”.
Sam Harris (Clifford Chance)
Sam worked on Clifford Chance’s refugee support scheme, which seeks to help represent individual asylum seekers through NGOs. In seeking to apply for refugee status, an individual has to show that it is physically unsafe to return to their country of origin, so Sam and his colleagues would help put together reports on country-of-origin information in order to demonstrate to the relevant authorities it would be dangerous for them to return. Sam also spoke about the fact that legal aid solicitors are overstretched, without capacity to cover aspects of asylum claims, and he advised us to reach out to smaller NGOs, as well as sole practitioner legal aid solicitors for impactful pro bono work. Addressing future trainee solicitors, he suggested that doing pro bono work would help in many ways, an example of which is that one could get more extensive experience drafting through writing reports, even when they are in a transactional seat.
Daniel Adeyimi (DLA Piper)
Daniel spoke about his experiences managing a project in Afghanistan and working with other law firms on future legal ways out of the country. Despite being quite new to the firm, Daniel has been involved in a lot of immigration law-related pro bono issues and has enjoyed working with different firms internationally, in collaborative efforts to assist with migrants.
A Question from the Audience
The informative session ended with a question-and-answer session with the participants. One of the questions asked was regarding the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on pro bono work at firms.
Yasmin suggested that the pandemic has brought opportunities in pro bono work, as clients and lawyers become used to communicating through zoom, meaning that international matters can be approached more easily. Sam also echoed Yasmin’s observation, but he noted that the pandemic had been very hard on the charities. For example, staff have had to be furloughed and many charities had to stop operating in the pandemic, and this caused detrimental impacts to their clients. Daniel felt that the lack of in-person meetings with clients made it hard to form a connection, but he believed the pandemic has opened opportunities for more people to benefit from pro bono work, and the “increased connectivity with technology will be positive moving forward.”
Reflections of the Evening
The presentations by our speakers were extremely insightful and allowed our participants to understand the important role of pro bono work in city law firms. It changed my understanding of working in a law firm, as I learnt that you could still participate in meaningful projects to benefit the wider community, whilst working simultaneously in deals or cases. I am amazed by the impact generated the pro bono initiatives in law firms, and it has certainly prompted me to think of the ways I could also make changes through volunteering to help others out.