Pro bono at Slaughter and May: charity, community and building your skills

Kate Hursthouse, Community Affairs Manager at Slaughter and May, on the firm's pro bono work

Pro bono work, which means work "for the public good", involves law firms offering charities and the community their legal skills for free.

Here Kate Hursthouse, Community Affairs Manager at Slaughter and May, talks about the firm's pro bono activities, why the firm does them, and how trainees get involved.

How do you see pro bono work?

It's a powerful thing for us to do - it allows charities to use more of their resources to help their beneficiaries and is a way for us to give back to our local community.

What types of pro bono work is Slaughter and May involved in?

Our lawyers do two types of pro bono work.

The first is working in the two legal advice centres we've staffed for many years. Seventy of our lawyers participate - including trainees and even future trainees. A rota is put together every three months and the lawyers go down in teams to meet people on an appointment basis.

They advise local residents on a range of legal issues, such as debt, welfare benefits, housing and consumer law.

There is training available for lawyers advising on these matters, but quite often it comes down to being able to analyse and understand a problem, then figuring out how to solve it.

The other main area of work is taking on charities as pro bono clients. The charities are treated in exactly the same way as fee-paying clients - we provide them with the same quality of advice and service.

We've worked with some charities for many years, including Save the Children, Charities Aid Foundation and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. We also provide extensive legal advice to the National Literacy Trust and Carers Trust.

Can you tell us some more about one of the firm's pro bono projects?

One example is the work we've done through the Capital Cases Charitable Trust (CCCT). The trust represents Caribbean people who have capital and non-capital convictions and want to appeal against them to the Privy Council.

Lawyers in our dispute resolution team act for these individuals, getting the cases ready for appeal. Many of the litigants have been convicted of murder, but their convictions may have been reached without following the correct procedures.

We never have any problems finding volunteers for this kind of work. When you decide to become a lawyer, you often want to use your skills in a human rights capacity, and this project allows our lawyers to do so.

Why does Slaughter and May undertake pro bono work?

Pro bono work offers us a host of benefits. First, it allows us to demonstrate our values. We think it's important for firms like Slaughter and May to work with charities, especially at the moment when many of them are struggling financially because of legal aid cuts and the potential cap on tax deductible giving.

We also feel it's important to give something back to our local area. Our office sits on the edge of the City, but if you walk five minutes up the road you'll see some deprivation. The legal advice centres can help - professional advice and support can be very effective.

Many of our clients have their own corporate social responsibility initiatives and through our pro bono work we can reflect our shared values. We sometimes collaborate with our clients on community or pro bono projects.

Quite often, for example, clients will have a small in-house legal team, which doesn't have the resources to participate in its own pro bono project, but we can work with them on one, which helps us to develop our relationship with them.

From a graduate recruitment perspective, we find that many of our applicants are conscientious, aware of social injustice, and have been active in the voluntary sector at university. Through our pro bono work, we're able to offer them the chance to stay involved in these areas.

Our pro bono projects also help our trainees and junior lawyers develop certain important skills. For instance, with pro bono work, you can get hands-on client management experience in the early stages of your time here.

What kind of pro bono work have trainees been involved in recently?

We actively encourage our junior staff to get involved in pro bono work. As a good example, last year we supported a helpline giving legal advice to the victims of the London riots - for example, small businesses whose premises had burnt down and who needed advice on the insurance implications.

A trainee in our commercial real estate team got very involved with the case of one particular client referred to us - a small business in south-west London which found its insurance policy didn't cover the full extent of the losses it incurred.

The trainee took the matter on and managed it from start to finish, developing his negotiation, interviewing and research skills. These are essential abilities to learn on your training contract, and pro bono work is a great opportunity to do so.

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