Winners were chosen in nine categories representing the breadth and range of pro bono delivery across the profession in England and Wales. Bob Nightingale MBE was honoured with an award for Outstanding Commitment to Pro Bono and the Advice sector, which was presented by the Hon. Judge David Mackie.
The winners of the Awards were:
Best Contribution by a Small Firm: Curtis Law Solicitors LLP
“The Family Law Clinic gives these [clients] recourse to impartial, practical advice that cannot be found anywhere else.”
Curtis Law has worked in partnership with LawWorks, Manchester University and Manchester Free Legal Help in order to help run a weekly family law clinic based at Manchester Civil Justice Centre after it became apparent that many clients were unable to access legal advice as a result of the legal aid cuts and because they could not afford to pay for a lawyer. The clinic has been running for 12 months and gives advice to 10 to 20 individuals each week on divorce, finances, children or injunction matters. It has had a positive impact on the local community and as a result many local organisations refer clients on a regular basis. The efforts of the lawyers at Curtis Law who go above and beyond what is asked of them are recognised and appreciated by the judiciary. Manchester Free Legal Help would not be able to exist without their generosity.
Best Contribution by a Firm with an English Regional Head Office: Shoosmiths LLP
“The support we received has been invaluable to our…playgroup [which] has been able to move to new premises and carry on providing affordable childcare…It has been a great pleasure to have them on our side and the [advice] has helped safeguard seven jobs.”
Being a responsible corporate citizen has been at the heart of the Shoosmiths Business Plan since 2010, with 1,176 pro bono hours recorded in 2015/16. Pro bono work is carried out by volunteer lawyers at various clinics around the country, for example, in Basingstoke, Northampton, Manchester and Edinburgh, as well as at CommuniCare clinics in Reading. Volunteers also give advice through the LawWorks Not-for-Profits Programme to small non-profit organisations (including, for example, to Durham Deafened Support and Hammersmith and Fulham Mind) and through the Business in the Community’s Pro Help Scheme in the East and West Midlands. Separate to this is the Access Legal helpline, established by the firm in 2010, which provides free legal advice to individuals, operates 6 days a week and received more than 13,000 enquiries during 2015/16 on a variety of issues including conveyancing, employment and serious injury.
Best Contribution by a Firm with a London Head Office : Travers Smith
“I don’t know how Refugees at Home could ever have got started and flourished so quickly without the superb pro bono help from the team at Travers Smith… we don’t think any member of The Law Society could have done more to ensure we function effectively, safely and legally.”
Refugees at Home is a small, UK based group aiming to connect those with a spare room in their home with asylum seekers and refugees in need of accommodation. Travers Smith have supported them from the outset, enabling them to become a charitable organisation, managing risk and maximise the services they can offer to refugees in a safe way. They have also provided advice on their website, on insurance and on housing benefit eligibility. Since registering an organisation, Refugees at Home have provided placements for over 150 refugees and asylum seekers from countries such as Syria, Pakistan, Eritrea and Sierra Leone, who have recently obtained status, for a total of over 3,500 nights. Their hosts provide them warm, safe, dry accommodation together with meals, support and often help with adjusting to the British way of life.
Best Contribution by an International Firm: Dechert LLP
“We owe a huge debt to all the team at Dechert, who continue to give us quality pro bono advice and support. Only through Dechert’s work and commitment have we been able to make the necessary legal arrangements that enabled us to start the bionic limb project this year.”
Dechert has built up a very close relationship with RAFT, a charity set up by plastic surgeons to help rebuild the lives of those affected by accident, disease or birth defect. The charity is a vocal critic of today’s prosthetic limbs which are so impractical, studies suggest, that the majority of amputees use their limbs for less than two hours a day. Together with University College London, RAFT is developing a pioneering technology for prosthetics that can work as effectively as a human arm. Volunteer lawyers from Dechert established a complex IP package that assisted the RAFT/UCL collaboration, which allowed RAFT, in turn, to reach an agreement with several commercial entities holding technologies that will also be necessary in developing a new bionic limb. The IP package provides a model that can be replicated with other ground-breaking research projects.
Best Contribution by an In-House Team: Goldman Sachs International
Goldman Sachs International
“This project is important to Centrepoint because it enables us to deliver on our promises to homeless young people. It’s important to young people because they would struggle to get this advice in a timely fashion anywhere else.”
The Connect Legal Advice Scheme is virtual legal advice scheme involving the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, the in-house legal team at Goldman Sachs International, Herbert Smith Freehills and Intralinks. Pairs of lawyers provide advice on housing, employment, consumer and civil liberties law to young people being supported by Centrepoint via a video conference link. Intralinks provide a ‘dealroom’ which allows clients to upload documents on which they are seeking advice and gives volunteer advisors access to materials and resources (researched by other volunteers) to support the areas of law on which they are advising. A training programme has also been set up for Centrepoint Keyworkers. Centrepoint say that for the young people they support, seeing that lawyers have set up a clinic to serve them is a valuable demonstration that the wider society cares about them.
Best Contribution by an Individual: Claire Curtis, Clyde & Co
“You have been amazing for us especially for P’s care… [and] you are personally and professionally dedicated towards your duty. You solved all our queries regarding P’s health care plan in a short space of time.”
Over the past four years, Claire has supported and advocated for a number of families, helping them with a range of issues including health and care packages, housing and benefit entitlements. She was instrumental in setting up the clinic which held at Richard House (a hospice for children in London) and which is run in partnership with Together for Short Lives, Clyde & Co and LawWorks. She supported a young family whose two year old daughter, P, suffers from a complex multi-system disorder and the family needed help with both housing and healthcare. As a result of Claire’s advocacy, a multi-agency health and care plan has been put in place to support P and her parents. In
Junior Lawyers Division Pro Bono Award: Frankie Boon, Ashurst
“Frankie has worked tirelessly for disadvantaged deaf teenagers…she has diligently and determinedly overcome a multitude of barriers to support young people to challenge unlawful decisions”.
During the past year, Frankie has carried out almost 400 hours of pro bono work. Through the National Deaf Children Society, Frankie has represented three children in respect of Personal Independence Payment claims – in one case a social security tribunal took less than 15 minutes to decide the case in her client’s favour as her submission was so strong. Frankie has also assisted Reprieve, as part of a wider Ashurst team, with the case of a UK national facing death row in a sub-Saharan country. She coordinated a team of paralegals in the disclosure reviews, prepared draft admissibility submissions, as well as undertaking research. Frankie coordinates Ashurst lawyers’ attendance at Toynbee Hall, as well as assisting qualified solicitors with advising the marginalised clients that attend the sessions. Frankie has assisted both the Center for Reproductive Rights (as part of a team which drafted periodic review letters on the situation of reproductive rights in the Philippines) and the Equal Rights Trust with on-going research needs.
The LawWorks Cymru Award: The Speakeasy, Cardiff Employment Law Clinic
“It is a remarkable partnership between local solicitors, supported by a volunteer co-ordinator, local law students (who help with administration and sit in on interviews) and the Speakeasy.”
Nearly 30 employment solicitors from more than 15 local firms have worked together since February 2015 to provide pro bono employment advice for nearly 200 clients a year, providing advice on employment rights, appeal procedures and tactics, as well as helping to draft letters and tribunal documents. The clinic is based at The Speakeasy Legal Advice Centre and is supported by students from Cardiff University Law School. Many of those attending the clinic are low paid workers who are owed wages or at early stages of appealing to an employment tribunal. One client worked for a local charity but was off work sick as she had been bullied after blowing the whistle on inappropriate behaviour between staff and clients. Another had worked for many years for a large public sector body and had been persuaded, while unwell, to take a compensation package that she now felt was unfair. Following advice from a volunteer, she has now lodged a claim at a tribunal.
Most Effective Pro Bono Partnership (joint winners): Court of Appeal Permission Application Pro Bono Scheme
“Litigants in person making oral applications for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal have real problems… [and] representations at these hearings are of great assistance both to the litigants and to the court”.
This scheme is a collaboration between RCJ Advice, the Bar Pro Bono Unit, LawWorks and the Personal Support Unit, together with the pro bono assistance of over 300 (often junior) barristers and solicitors. Following a need identified by Lord Justice Rupert Jackson, COAS helps litigants in person apply for permission to appeal in the Court of Appeal. The time for these hearing is limited – usually only half an hour - and the papers may be chaotic, so there is a strong need for representation at these hearings to ensure that the permission is granted in appropriate cases. One such client was a Nigerian national who had been pursuing a claim against the UK government since 2010 after the DVLA lost his passports which led to the loss of his job and his house as well as significant distress. A COAS advocate helped the grateful client to persuade the Court of Appeal to grant the permission to appeal.
Most Effective Pro Bono Partnership (joint winners): K&L Gates LLP and Pause
“Pause has grown rapidly over the last few years – I can categorically say that we wouldn’t have been able to do so without the unwavering support of K&L Gates.”
Pause is the only national charity working with women who are caught in the destructive cycle of having multiple short interval pregnancies resulting in the removal of children from their care. These women are often living with complex problems involving domestic violence, addiction, homelessness and the criminal justice system. Pause sought help from K&L Gates in its infancy in order to establish itself as a legal entity and gain charitable status, as well as assistance with employment law and IP issues. From starting as a pilot project in Hackney, Pause is now launching an ambitious plan to create up to 47 Pause Practices around the country in order to prevent the damaging consequences of thousands more children being taken into care each year. K&L Gates continue to work on long term projects with Pause as well as being available at short notice for urgent advice and continue to be an important partner and friend to Pause.
Outstanding Contribution to Pro Bono and the Advice Sector: Bob Nightingale MBE