For my third seat I went on internal secondment to the pro bono team. The UK pro bono department of two full time staff coordinates and manages over 25,000 hours of pro bono work in the UK every year, the equivalent of about 14 full time lawyers – which is a mammoth task! I have always been interested in human rights and access to justice. Throughout my legal studies I volunteered with human rights NGOs and legal clinics – so it was great to see the work that a leading commercial law firm does in these areas.
It was an excellent experience to see how a large commercial law firm organises its pro bono work. It is quite easy, in a firm with as successful a pro bono practice as DLA Piper, to sit back and wait for opportunities for pro bono work to be offered to you. What you do not see is all the work going on behind the scenes forging relationships and developing combined projects with leading NGOs and managing our legal clinics. The knowledge and experience I gained on this front is something that I will use to help drive pro bono work wherever I end up in my legal career.
The work the team does is really interesting and impactful. I helped to coordinate and undertook some of the casework for our various legal clinics that assist individuals who do not have access to Legal Aid. I also coordinated and project managed large research projects (over 25 lawyers were involved in one!). I was also able to work closely with our business and human rights lawyer to help build up the firm's practice in this area.
One particularly memorable task was assisting the team in preparing a submission to the Ministry of Justice for their review of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). LASPO cut billions from the civil legal aid budget and has contributed to a major access to justice crisis in England & Wales. Law firms are often seen as reluctant to engage in activity that could be perceived as political, so it was great to see DLA Piper putting in such a robust submission to the government setting out the impacts that LASPO had on access to justice and the harm done to the most vulnerable members of society. The submission also used the firm's global pro bono expertise to propose changes to the structure of Legal Aid based on how the Australian legal funding system is modelled.
The businesses that will be most successful in the future are those that are not just driven by the quest for profits, but businesses that have strong values, are prepared to do the right thing and take a view on issues affecting society. One of the best things about being in the pro bono team is seeing how DLA Piper is not just a leading law firm from a commercial perspective but is also leading in the responsible business space.