Member Firm of the Month - Holman Fenwick Willan LLP
What are the main areas of law practised at this firm?
Litigation, Corporate transactional, asset finance, insurance and re-insurance.
When did the organisation start carrying out pro bono work?
We have been doing so for several years.
How are staff encouraged to become involved in pro bono work?
All staff are encouraged to do so through our intranet, or by partners in the firm (both informally and formally via appraisals and practice group meetings).
What type of pro bono work does the organisation carry out?
Each Tuesday evening, volunteers from HFW provide free legal advice at an advice session based in the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in Morden. This advice session is provided within the framework of the South West London Law Centres. The volunteers attend on a rota basis once every four weeks. If for any reason someone cannot attend their allotted session, then HFW lawyers swap sessions with another volunteer, to ensure the session is adequately supported. 29 lawyers from across HFW's London office are actively involved.
The advice session is intended to provide one off advice on consumer, employment and housing problems encountered by people who would not otherwise be able to obtain advice on these matters. The HFW volunteers are assisted by a volunteer receptionist, who filters those requiring advice and refers those HFW cannot assist to the CAB or other specialist services, where that is possible. For example, HFW cannot advise on criminal, tax or family law, or on debt.
The advice that a client at the drop-in centre requires can sometimes be provided at the session itself, however in some cases the HFW volunteer will need to research the issues and draft a full letter of advice a few days later. In some cases, the clients can be referred to local solicitors. There may also be cases, particularly in employment law matters, where a client can and should be referred to the Free Representation Unit (FRU), Bar Bro Bono Unit or LawWorks. It is also possible to ask the specialists of the South West London Law Centres for support in certain circumstances (for example, where a client is being evicted from their home).
Please give details of a case that illustrates your organisation’s success with pro bono work
At the end of September 2010, we received notification that South West London Law Centres was about to go into administration. Not only would this have had a huge impact on the various communities in London served by the Law Centre, which include Battersea, Wandsworth, Tooting and Kingston, but also our own pro bono advice service at Morden.
Without the umbrella organisation of South West London Law Centres, we would be unable to operate our drop in legal advice centre. The drop-in legal advice centres operated by other City firms would also fall away, leaving some of the most vulnerable members of society exposed to claims and without access to justice. Immediate moves were made by HFW to lobby government to intervene to prevent such a disaster and we put together a rescue package, which included making an immediate donation of £10,000 to an emergency recovery fund. This rescue package resulted not only in other major organisations and law firms also contributing, but government also taking real steps to prevent the closure of the Law Centre and to carry out a wide-scale review of civil legal aid in the country.
The rescue of this important law centre has received a great deal of media coverage in recent months, with HFW being mentioned as taking a lead role.
Given the level of involvement from HFW lawyers, this initiative has gained a great deal of impetus and support from within the firm, with many people going to great lengths to ensure their session is adequately staffed – returning from overseas trips early, being a regular example. The project is run by Julian Clark, an Equity Partner in London and receives active support from the Charity Committee of the firm, on which sit the firm's Senior and Managing Partners.
The initiative was chosen originally because we wanted to find a project that we could get actively involved with and in which we could provide direct and tangible advice to people who would otherwise not have access to legal support. Thus, it has been a great success, particularly with the required and vital rescue at the end of last year.
The person responsible for the delivery of all corporate and commercial pro bono advice at the firm is Nick Hutton.