Friday, 18 December 2009

Pro Bono and Public Interest Commission of the City of Buenos Aires Bar Association

The Pro Bono and Public Interest Commission [Comisión de Trabajo Pro Bono e Interés Público] convenes and gathers a group of lawyers engaged in providing pro bono services in public interest cases and who understand the law as a tool of social change and modification of public policies.

Organized as a Pro Bono Network of law firms, the Commission provides free legal services to public interest cases which involve collective interests and thus project their effects to broad sectors of the community.

In practice, the Commission operates as a link between individuals or civil entities requesting pro bono services –- pro bono demand -- and the law firms of the Pro Bono Network -- pro bono offer.

The Commission was created in December 2000 by the initiative of a group of members of the City of Buenos Aires Bar Association [Colegio de Abogados de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires] and works in association with other bar associations in Latin America.

In particular, the Commission works on four areas of interest: disability, microfinance, NGO advice and transparency. The pro bono criminal area was set up in 2009 and new areas of interest, such as childhood and adolescence, are scheduled to begin in 2010.

Among the main achievements attained during 2009, we can mention:

As to the area of disability, a favorable judgment was obtained in a summary action [amparo] filed by the lawyers of the Commission against the City of Buenos Aires Government (GCBA) seeking compliance with the 5% quota of disabled employees provided under the Constitution of the City of Buenos Aires.

In the area of microfinance, the approval of a US$50,000 grant was obtained from IDLO (International Development Law Organization) to organize seminars, workshops, conferences and publications with public authorities seeking the amendment of the regulatory, tax and labor frame and to foster the development of microfinance in Argentina. The approval of a trust to generate funding for microcredit ventures was obtained from FOMIN (IDB).

In the areas of NGO advice and transparency, two successful seminars were organized attended by prominent participants in local public opinion. The first seminar dealt with 'NGOs - Legal and Tax Issues', and the second one with 'Political transparency, citizen participation and civic duties of lawyers'. In this area the Commission provides pro bono services to several and prestigious NGOs who conduct activities related to the Pro Bono Network.

Posted by
Naldo F. Dasso
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Monday, 7 December 2009

About My Office

Osun State is located in the south-west part of Nigeria.

It covers an area of approximately 14.875 square kilometers, lies between longitude 04 00E and latitude 05.558 and is bounded by four (4) other states i.e Ogun, Kwara, Oyo and Ondo States in the South, North, West and East respectively.

The people of the State are composed of Yoruba tribe. However non-indigenes from all parts of Nigeria and foreigners reside in the State, living together in harmony.

A reasonable segment of the populace comprises traders and artisans. The State has 31 Local Government Councils with Osogbo as the State Capital.

In December 2008 the Governor of Osun State in his Budget speech created the Office of the Public Defender and Citizens Rights and I was appointed as the pioneering director in March 2009. Five months later four additional lawyers were appointed to the Office. All of them are below 5 years at the Bar.

In order for us to function effectively a law was proposed and drafted by me and approved for the House of Assembly's deliberation and passage.

The Office has power of corporate personally and its main functions among others is to provide free legal services to the indigent people of the State and embed the culture of providing legal representation on a pro-bono basis with the legal profession in the state and provide ready means of assistance to less privileged.

The Office is to institutionalize mediation, reconciliation, conciliation and alternative dispute resolution in the administration of Justice in the State by ensuring that parties enter into ADR processes voluntarily.

The office has the status of an agency under the Ministry of Justice and is situated at the Government Secretariat Osogbo the capital city of the State.

However, it can be said that the world economic situation has seriously affected the takeoff of the office since its establishment.

Already we have received over 50 complaints from the general public on disputes such as landlord and tenant, employer and employee, domestic violence and family inheritance, debt recovery, accident at work, domestic accidents, fatal accidents, breach of agreements, human rights etc.

However only about five cases of these disputes have been successfully handled by my office. The reasons are not farfetched.

Firstly, the manpower is limited i.e only five lawyers are appointed to service the whole State of 31 Local Government Councils.

Secondly there are no enough infrastructure for counsel to work. We have not been able to attend any of the cases outside the state capital because there is no official vehicle to embark on such trip. Office equipment are also not adequate.

Thirdly, I am the only person in the office who has a reasonable experience and training in pro-bono and ADR work. Other lawyers are very young at the Bar with no experience in this field.

The above scenario is generating disenchantment and lack of interest in the lawyers and thereby making the generality of the people in the State to lose hope and confidence in the office.


One Mrs. 'A', a 32yr old mother of three, came to our office to report her husband a police officer who abandoned her and three children without care and support. My office wrote to the officer who had been transferred out of the State. A copy of the letter was sent to the Boss; a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) demanding that the officer should come to a meeting in our office. At the meeting he was advised to pay monthly living allowance to the three children out of his monthly salary. An agreement was mutually entered into by the parties and a legal agreement was drafted in that respect. The officer paid three months installment before he was transferred to Ondo State. Since he left for Ondo State three months ago, he has failed to pay the monthly allowance to his three children. Now we have difficulty in reaching him in his new place of posting which is about four hours drive to Osogbo, the State capital.

Also in a related development, Mrs. 'F', a widow of seven children, is yet to receive her husband's entitlement from Nigerian Custom Services, a Federal Government establishment 6 years after her husband’s death. The law establishing the agency requires that the head office should be at the capital of the country, Abuja. A letter of demand to the agency on behalf of the widow was ignored. Litigation on behalf of the widow will cost so much and my office is yet to be funded. Meanwhile the widow and seven children are languishing in abject poverty.

That is the typical situation of my office.

Posted by
Toyin Adegoke
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Friday, 13 November 2009

Dubai International Financial Centre Pro Bono

The following has just appeared on the news wires: The new pro bono system in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts -- the DIFC's independent, common law judicial system tribunal and the first of its kind in the Middle East -- will be tested for the first time shortly in an employment case.

After a period of public consultation, the guidelines for the DIFC's pro bono programme took effect last month and the scheme immediately attracted interest from the legal community with seven law firms having already registered their voluntary services. To date, five pro bono litigant applications have been filed at the DIFC Courts. The first pro bono case will be heard in the Court of First Instance, most likely before the end of the year.

The IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee were consulted on the preparation of the guidelines and were pleased to be able to contribute to the establishment of this new venture. Very few similar systems have been introduced across the globe (the US Immigration Court system has one, as does the US Tax Court, and we would welcome news of any others) and it will be interesting to see, therefore, how it develops. Perhaps it will also provide a boost to the provision of pro bono elsewhere in the Emirates, the GCC and the Middle East as a whole?

Posted by
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Monday, 19 October 2009

Australia’s National Pro Bono Aspirational Target

Australia’s National Pro Bono Resource Centre, an independent organization that promotes pro bono legal services in Australia, recently released its second annual report summarizing the number of pro hours undertaken by signatories to its aspirational annual target of 35 hours of pro bono per lawyer. Signatories and pro bono hours increased substantially over last year, with the Centre reporting the number of lawyer signatories up from 2900 last year to 5700 this year and pro bono work up from 113, 356 hours to 180,771.5 hours. Reports indicated that the success of the Centre’s initiative was helped by the Australian government’s decision to take account of whether its firm or lawyer vendors had signed on to the target. However, the total number of signatories to the aspirational target is still only about 11% of the country’s lawyers.

The Centre’s initiative and individual attorneys' pro bono work is commendable. There is always the lingering question, though: Are aspirational targets enough?

Posted by
Patrice Dziire
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Access to justice in the Rural Philippines

Attorney Angelito Orozco is chief legal counsel of the local government of Olongapo City in Central Luzon, Philippines, and describes that office’s work for poor clients there as follows:

It is an integral part of my job to provide mediation/arbitration, albeit in an informal way, especially to poor clients who cannot afford costly and lengthy formal litigation. Their cases would range from simple collection of small money claims, grievances against neighbors or employees of the city government, family matters, and the like. We also dispense legal advice on matters involving eviction/ejectment, petty crimes, annulment of marriage, adoption of minors, and the like.

Further, we coordinate with the Bureau of Jail Management and the regular courts for visits to detention prisoners to ensure that their basic constitutional rights and right to Speedy Trial Act are being observed; otherwise, such can be a ground for the dismissal of their cases. Lastly, we also provide legal representation to indigent clients but on a limited number and basis at this point, owing to financial and time constraints.

Posted by
Robin Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Pro bono in South Africa

During 2002, the members of the Cape Law Society (including attorneys in the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape), unanimously adopted a resolution giving rise to a rule obliging all practising lawyers (with one or two exceptions) to render a minimum of 24 hours pro bono service to those who cannot afford to pay legal fees.

Following this, the Cape Law Society concluded joint venture agreements (and continues to do so) with NGOs serving the poor who required free legal assistance on behalf of the people they serve or, in certain circumstances, assistance to the NGOs itself.

The law societies with jurisdiction in other provinces in South Africa (the Free State Law Society, Law Society of the Northern Provinces and KwaZulu Natal Law Society) all adopted similar rules, with KwaZulu Natal being the last province to consider whether or not the rule should be made obligatory.

The provincial law societies have all appointed provincial co-ordinators, and the Law Society of South Africa has appointed a national co-ordinator to facilitate the process of pro bono nationally. We are currently working towards convening a national conference with the view to establishing a rule to set in place national norms and standards for pro bono.

Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs ('ENS') is the largest law firm in Africa, with offices in Cape Town, Gauteng (Johannesburg) and KwaZulu Natal (Durban). ENS is currently the only firm in South Africa to establish dedicated pro bono offices.

Its first pro bono office is in the township called Mitchell's Plain, an impoverished area in the Western Cape, where ENS renders services to the communities of Khayelitsha and Mitchell's Plain.

Its second dedicated pro bono office is in the township of Alexandra in Gauteng, with the aim of bridging the historical divide that exists between suburbs such as Alex and Sandton, two very different worlds.

Both offices are managed by qualified lawyers, and every professional of the firm dedicates 32 hours per year rendering services to the poor on their doorstep, rather than expecting them to find their (often impossible) way to Cape Town or Sandton.

Posted by
Taswell Papier
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Monday, 14 September 2009

More pro bono celebration

The First Annual United States National Pro Bono Celebration is scheduled for October 25 through 31, 2009. Sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, the celebration is a coordinated national effort to showcase the great difference that pro bono lawyers make to the nation, its system of justice, its communities and, most of all, to the clients they serve. The week is also dedicated to the quest for more pro bono volunteers to meet the ever-growing legal needs of this country's most vulnerable citizens.

The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service chose to launch this important initiative now because of the increasing need for pro bono services during these harsh economic times and the unprecedented response of attorneys to meet this demand.

Although national in breadth, this celebration provides an opportunity for local legal associations across the country to collaboratively commemorate the contributions of America's lawyers and, most important, to recruit additional volunteers to meet the growing need.

One of the guiding principles of the Pro Bono Committee's planning is to support existing local pro bono awards, events and programs. The legal needs of the poor are local issues, and although nationwide, this celebration is intended to have a local focus and impact. Goals for the celebration include:
1. Recognizing the pro bono efforts of America's lawyers
2. Recruiting more pro bono volunteers
3. Mobilizing community support for pro bono.

The Celebrate Pro Bono website at is designed to maximize participation in the National Pro Bono Celebration. Please visit often for updates, additional information and assistance.

Posted by
Anthony H. Barash
Director Emeritus, ABA Center for Pro Bono

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Pro bono celebrations

There are many occasions to take a critical look at access to justice issues and to challenge why we aren't doing better as a society and as a legal profession in meeting current access to justice needs. Striving to achieve equal access to justice and engaging legal professionals in these efforts should be a constant pursuit. It also is necessary to reflect on the accomplishments we have achieved and energize the legal profession's participation in improving access to justice and delivering pro bono legal services.

Raising awareness and celebrating pro bono efforts serves a number of purposes: it highlights the need for increased funding, it connects individuals and organizations in need of legal services to lawyers able to provide them, it augments the image of the legal profession, and it energizes legal professionals. Many jurisdictions offer annual celebrations that inform the public and celebrate the pro bono work lawyers are doing while also trying to engage and activate further participation by lawyers. In Canada, we host bi-annual conferences ( and also engage in national pro bono week celebrations ( Our colleagues in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom also have similar celebrations. National pro bono celebrations provide the opportunity to reflect on the values of the legal profession and celebrate ongoing pro bono efforts while challenging the legal profession to do more. Do others have examples of pro bono celebrations and awareness raising events of this nature?

Posted by
Pamela Kovacs
Chair, Canadian Bar Association Pro Bono Committee

Friday, 14 August 2009

Mandatory pro bono considered in Israel and adopted in the Phillipines

The Israel Bar Association was established in 1961 as an autonomous statutory entity, under the Bar Association Law - 1961, in order to incorporate the lawyers in Israel and to assure the standard and integrity of the legal profession. The Bar Association is a body corporate, and is subject to inspection by the State Comptroller. Membership is mandatory and is a pre-requisite to practicing law in Israel.

The above-mentioned law distinguishes between the statutory obligatory functions of the Bar Association (section 2) and its other non-obligatory functions and competences (section 3). One of the non-obligatory functions which appears in section 3 is "to provide legal assistance to persons without means".

A new bill, proposed by one of the members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), suggests converting this non-obligatory function into an obligatory one. The Knesset Research & Information Center reports that this proposal is being discussed now in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset.

More information about the Pro Bono program of the Israel Bar Association is on the bar's website here.

The Philippines has recently adopted mandatory pro bono effective 1 January 2010. See here and here for more information.

Posted by
Anthony H. Barash
Director Emeritus, ABA Center for Pro Bono

The above news could form the launch pad for a more wide-ranging debate on whether mandatory pro bono is necessarily a good thing:

- If it becomes mandatory, does it lose an important element of pro bono? Or is the end result all that matters?
- Does it make it more difficult to ensure quality of service is of a uniform standard with client work?
- If charity donation is made compulsory, doesn't it become a tax?

We welcome your comments by clicking the comment link below.

Posted by
Tim Soutar
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

The prospect of mandatory pro bono can provoke concern in some instances. See Marcos Fuchs's remarks, delivered at the IBA Annual Conference in Buenos Aires in October 2008, in which he describes the resistance of the 47,000 lawyers in Sao Paulo State who rely on government subsidy for representing the underserved to any form of pro bono mandate. Their concern derives from the possibility that lawyers offering services pro bono might engage in unfair competition. Likewise, lawyers in the U.S. who cultivate practices based on fee-shifting regimes voice concern that judges will minimize fee awards if they believe that the work is more appropriately done on a pro bono basis. See Samuel R. Bagenstos, "Mandatory Pro Bono and Private Attorneys General," 101 Nw. U. L. Rev. Colloquy 182 (2007).

More fundamentally, in a jurisdiction which considers pro bono work as an ethical obligation, one might say that providing the work is mandatory in any case. See David Fagelson, "Rights and Duties: The Ethical Obligations to Serve the Poor," 17 Law & Ineq.: A J. of Theory & Prac. 171, 182-189 (Winter 1999); see generally Robin Westbrook, "Lawyering and the Low-Income Taxpayer," 124 Tax Notes 704 and 705-706 (August 17, 2009).

Posted by
Robin Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Friday, 24 July 2009

Reducing too business-oriented sentiment from clever lawyer

The corporate world has made the business lawyers too business-oriented, this means that business lawyers would only work for financially lucrative case and not bothering working for pro bono service that would bring some kinds of positive impacts to the community or a society as a whole.

Getting back to the legal education, we as the law students, have been taught to better the society and to protest against any phenomenon that we believe will bring negative impacts to the society. And indeed, we have been very active in seeing the society in a critical way and devoting our brain to bring in the good into the society.

The hectic corporate world has almost totally changed everything, as business lawyers become too busy with lucrative business cases and they have to fight day and night for the clients, leaving with no time to give some helps to the society they are living in.

As a law student and legal adviser, I feel that lawyer or legal practitioner would be the most qualified and efficient person, if he/she is the one who does the legally systematic thinking to clean the defects, whether such the defects are related or not related to legal aspect, in the society; will the politicians, economists, students, the public, etc, can positively rectify the society in term of legal aspects better than us?

What I am saying here, is that I just wish to suggest to all clever lawyers in the world to consider pro bono work for their society or any society as another piece of cake after work.

Posted by Vicheka Lay
Legal Consultant, Cambodia

Friday, 17 July 2009

Lawyers as society's self-regulating guardians of justice

Commentators such as David Fagelson* derive the obligation to provide legal service pro bono from attorneys' central role in the justice system. Justice is a fundamental social value, and equality before the law is its key element.

For a person to participate in a complex, adversarial justice system, a lawyer's expertise is indispensable. The state acknowledges and enables this expertise with various entitlements: most significantly, a monopoly, which lawyers themselves regulate, on the practice of law and on access to courts. Monopoly pricing is deemed to result, and pro bono service is deemed an appropriate acknowledgment of the power to price services beyond the reach of many. Some observe, perhaps more philosophically, that the self-regulation which secures the monopoly - the ability to determine who can join the club - itself secures important social values.

Thus, an independent, self-regulating legal profession, free to admit members of its own choosing who can exercise their profession without government direction, best preserves the rule of law. As society's self-regulating guardians of justice, lawyers are best positioned to secure its fundamental value of equality of all before the law and to work toward universal access.

While this may seem rather lofty, consider recent developments in Fiji where, as of June 30, all lawyers must apply for a Practicing Certificate from the newly-installed, military-backed regime, which moved the licensing of lawyers from the law society to an army-appointed major.** A lawyer was prevented from delivering a speech to the Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress, scheduled for June 12, 2009, due to its discussion of Fiji’s political and financial crisis and the impact of the recent coup on human rights. Download the text of his speech here [PDF file].

Against this backdrop, a correlation between lawyers' autonomy and an ethical obligation to further access to justice does not seem extreme.

Posted by Robin Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

* 'Rights and Duties: The Ethical Obligation to Serve the Poor', 17 Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory & Practice 171, Winter 1999.
** Rowan Callick, 'Fiji's military-led judiciary no paradise for business', The Australian, 5 June 2009,,28124,25588281-36418,00.html, accessed 17 July 2009.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Pro bono 'clearing houses'

During this troubled economy, there has been a notable increase in the number of lawyers in the United States volunteering to work pro bono with legal aid organizations -- a trend likely to be mirrored in other countries. Some of these recent volunteers, however, have no experience in dealing with loss of public benefits, evictions, discriminatory practices, and comparable issues that low income, legal aid clients generally confront. Instead, they are transactional lawyers experienced in finance, security laws, tax matters etc.

The problem of matching pro bono lawyers with deserving organizations that are in need of their skills is handled in São Paulo, Brazil, by the Instituto Pro Bono. This facility acts as a 'clearing house' in pro bono matters, assisting NGOs and other non-profit organizations find qualified attorneys for civil, criminal, and labor law issues.

In Washington DC, the Community Economic Development Project matches community based non-profits with law firms that can best address their business and transactional requirements.

The Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee leadership invites comments identifying additional clearing house facilities to which it can refer members for assistance in finding suitable pro bono projects.

Posted by Patricia Blair
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The expat pro bono lawyer: some policy considerations

A variety of programs deploy volunteer attorneys to advance democracy and the rule of law, protect human rights, promote equitable economic development worldwide and advance the social and economic well-being of people in developing countries. For some examples, see here. Today, I'd like to explore the role of the lawyer in legal reform and examine some policy considerations that should concern every lawyer considering an expat pro bono assignment and every sponsoring organization. In brief, they are:

• Staffed vs. volunteer programs
• "Pay to play"
• Independence of the volunteer
• Setting and implementing the funder's/volunteer's agenda
• Institution building vs. general political/economic development

First, let's look at the difference between staffed legal assistance programs and volunteers. Staff, of course, are paid employees. Volunteers, though they may have their expenses covered, are donating their time. Staff are typically in career positions. Their country assignments last 2-3 years. They frequently work on contract and often move from employer to employer, sometimes working for a national government or an international body and sometimes working for an NGO. Their career arc depends on performance evaluations and references. Conversely, the volunteer is usually in country for a year or less, though many stay longer and often use the volunteer assignment as a springboard to a new career.

Volunteers come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Most often, the recruitment and engagement of volunteers is on a level playing field – what experience and skill sets are needed at the time determines who in the applicant pool gets the nod. But, some NGOs favor volunteers who've supported the organization financially and otherwise. Some call this "pay to play", and it is an issue not limited to organizations that recruit pro bono lawyers for international assignments. Prospective volunteers need to know and understand the policy of the sponsoring organization concerning expectations of financial support.

Let’s look at some people issues. How are people recruited for expat pro bono legal jobs? How are they trained? Who do they work for? What are their jobs? What are the risks and rewards?

Some observers have characterized various donor countries' foreign policies as "uncomfortable dualism", that is, ostensibly pro democracy when and where it suits the donor's national interest, but, in reality using democratization as an instrument of foreign policy. So, what's wrong with that? Must there be an internal consistency? What are the benchmarks? What are the implications vis a vis the rule of law? What do we mean by "the instrumentalization of pro-democracy policies"? Is wrapping security goals in the language of democracy promotion and then confusing democracy promotion with the search for particular political outcomes that enhance those security goals of concern to the prospective volunteer. Any examples come to mind? How about providing legal and other technical and financial support to anti-regime opposition parties and politicians in the name of election reform? It certainly happened in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Lawyers have an interesting and complicated role to play in the democratization process. We (at least those of us who at some point in our careers practice law) are trained to approach problems not from our own perspectives but on behalf of a client. In the litigation and dispute resolution context, we are accustomed to assessing the facts of a situation (i.e., a case), spotting relevant legal issues, and advocating our client's best case against an adversary's best case. In the transactional context, we negotiate the best deal we can for our client.

So, as we assess the need for a legal reform program, design a program, determine its feasibility, implement it and evaluate it, who is our client? Or, do we have a client? This is a profoundly important and perplexing question. Can we escape our training and proclivity to need a client and be a neutral? Is our client the donor? Does the donor set the agenda? Are we, in short, advocates for the donor? Most donors view NGOs that receive funding from them as obligated to advance the donor's agenda, no matter how closely it is micro-managed. Not all of the people in the field feel that way.

Is our client the transitional host state? Do we have a conflict of interest if we are engaged in reform, such as anti-corruption strategies or judicial transparency, that are contrary to the perceived interests of the ruling elite?

Is our client the institution(s) and professionals with whom we engage, such as, government ministries, bar associations, judges, advocates or prosecutors?

Is our client the "people", i.e., the rank and file, of the host country?

For lawyers involved in development work this is an ongoing debate. For example, if our "client" is the donor country, and the donor country is in a strategic partnership with the regime, legal reform programs that are anti-regime potentially compromise the credibility of the lawyer. As an implementer of the donor’s foreign policy, the lawyer may have to pull her punches in criticizing the existing system. If the client is the institution, professions or "people", the lawyer advocating or providing technical support for reform may well be challenging the ruling elite with whom the donor country has a partnership, thus conflicting with the donor.

Are there any limits on the roles expat lawyers can play? Are we advocates, counselors, mentors, technicians, or all of the above, and what are the implications of each role?

Typically and appropriately the expat volunteer lawyer teams with local professionals, who provide local legal, political, language and cultural expertise. Those synergies and relationships are usually very positive by-products of the expat lawyer’s experience. The locals also tend to provide more continuity to programs than expats, who come for a limited time, often not coextensive with the funding cycle of the program.

There are, however, some risks. What are the risks and rewards for the expats? The locals? Obviously, the local may be a spy for the ruling elite. It happens, and it's very difficult to prevent. So, there must be some boundaries. The local lawyer, and his or her family, can also be at risk, professionally and personally. The relationship with the expat lawyer brings the local lawyer some significant benefits: income, networking, training, opportunity. But, if the reform fails, the local lawyer may well have sacrificed his future. So, he must also set boundaries, to assure that the voices of the expat and the local are distinct. The expat has the protective umbrella of his home country and a return ticket out of the host country.

What happens when the survival of the program, such as transferring cash to pay salaries and operating expenses, requires the expat and/or the locals to violate the local law? It happens. How specifically does a "Rule of Law" program address the issue? Is it appropriate for a donor supported NGO implementing a donor country’s program to violate local law? When? What are the risks?

The success of legal reform programs depends on the people who design and implement them. In addition to all the usual criteria (smart, ethical, self-starters, motivated, etc.), they must be trained and oriented to the new, different and unique circumstances they will encounter. They must think about their role, whom they represent, and their relationships with their colleagues. And, it is incumbent on the donors and NGOs to insist on and facilitate this training and orientation.

Posted by
Anthony H. Barash
Director Emeritus, ABA Center for Pro Bono
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Monday, 15 June 2009

Day Laborer Wage Clinic redresses abuse of immigrant employment rights

A legal services organization in the United States encountered a serious access to justice issue involving its immigrant population. The legal aid attorneys discovered that there was a street in a major city where immigrants gathered daily to be "picked up" in trucks by employers to do landscaping, construction work and housekeeping chores.

In spite of the fact that United States laws require employers to pay at least a minimum wage regardless of whether a worker is in the country legally, employers often refused to pay these day laborers the wages they had earned. Due to a combination of factors, including ignorance of their legal rights and fear of threatened deportation if they complained, many of these immigrants simply did nothing and allowed their employers to benefit from their work, without having to pay for it.

In response to this gross inequity, the legal service organization opened a Day Laborer Wage Clinic and called upon the local bar association for assistance in staffing it. With the help of volunteers, pro bono lawyers and paralegals, the Clinic is open one night a week where immigrants, primarily non-English speaking, can come without any appointment for assistance in enforcing their employment rights and in obtaining the wages illegally withheld by their employers.

Employers are quickly learning of the existence of the Day Laborer Wage Clinic and that its legal aid and pro bono attorneys, paralegals, and interpreters will not tolerate the abuse of immigrant employment rights.

Posted by Patricia Blair
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Monday, 1 June 2009

A contribution of thoughts in regard to some shortcomings in relation to translation and interpretation

Assurances that the principle of equality of arms is upheld in criminal proceedings in other jurisdictions than our own is fundamental for common trust. Based on the Swedish experience, an important source of problem in mutual recognition-based cooperation is the lack of sufficient guarantees of procedural rights in domestic systems. Deficiencies of this kind in many national systems and the lack of common minimum procedural standards regarding the protection of individual rights in criminal proceedings give rise to hesitation and lack of a sufficient basis for mutual trust and recognition.

Already in 2004 the European Commission, within its draft Framework decision on certain procedural rights applying in criminal matters throughout the European Union, therefore put focus inter alia on the access to interpretation and translation. The reason was quite simple; a suspect must know and be able to understand the suspicions and charges raised against him or her. Notwithstanding that this must be considered as a “basic right” common for every country based on the rule of law, the work of a common understanding within the European Union on the importance and need of translation and interpretation was buried for many years of political reasons.

Recently, however, the The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) has published a manifesto calling for ‘The right kind of justice for Europe’ in the light of the current drafting of the next five-year Strategic Agenda for Freedom, Security and Justice in the European Union, the so-called ‘Stockholm programme’.

One of the central parts of this Manifesto is the need for introduction of minimum common procedural safeguards for the right of suspects and defendants in criminal proceedings. One of the fundaments of these minimum procedural safeguards is access to free interpretation and translation, ensuring that persons, including relatives of the suspect, who are not capable of understanding or following the proceedings receive appropriate means for this.

Today there is not only lack of a minimum procedural right in respect of translation and interpretation in Europe and elsewhere. It is also, when such interpretation and translation can be disposed, often a questionable quality of the translation or interpretation services rendered. Furthermore, the defence counsels often have to bear the costs of interpretation and translation. In many countries this is a cost paid by the state only in case of acquittal. Hence, lawyers often bear the economic risk of having their clients’ justified legal interest and rights provided for. Pro bono work becomes a prerequisite of the fulfilment of minimum procedural rights.

Obviously, this must change. The CCBE Manifesto is a good start and my sincere hope and belief is that the Swedish Presidency of the European Union for the second half of 2009 succeeds in its declared efforts to pull a legislation on the right of interpretation and translation through the European legislative mills.

Let us at least have common minimum rights on the suspect’s understanding of the suspicion, and let it be at the expense of the states and not the lawyers.

Posted by Anne Ramberg
Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Opening the courthouse doors

Courts can facilitate access by litigants who do not have counsel, paid or pro bono. They might provide simplified procedures, translation services, and, as in the case of the U.S. Tax Court, videos on how a pro se litigant can proceed. The Court expects to start mailing DVDs of the video shortly to unrepresented taxpayers.

What other steps can courts take to accommodate unrepresented litigants? In what situations are these measures most appropriate? What are opposing counsel’s duties and concerns in such a case? Does it matter if opposing counsel represents the government?

Posted by Robin Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

VAT on pro bono services

Should pro bono legal services be subject to a value-added tax? Some jurisdictions do impose VAT on the value of pro bono legal services, while some limit VAT to the amount of fees actually charged.

As the U.S. contemplates imposing a value-added tax -- see 'Once Considered Unthinkable, U.S. Sales Tax Gets Fresh Look' for background -- the issue should be explicitly considered as related to pro bono, and lawyers presently subject to value-added taxation doubtless have a great deal to share.

What are your views and experiences in this area?

Posted by Robin Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Monday, 11 May 2009

Are pro bono and public interest the answers for new law graduates?

New law graduates have been particularly vulnerable in this recession. As many know, in the last several months, law firms have been pursuing a variety of measures to control costs and adjust for the declining demand for legal services in some areas, including cutting first year salaries, deferring start dates, offering stipends for public interest work, and, most recently, paying associates not to start at all.

Article from the New York Times
Article from Legal Week
Article at ABA Journal
Article at NY Lawyer (free registration required to view)

Where does this leave new law graduates who need appropriate training and mentorship opportunities? Can pro bono and public interest work fulfill the need?

Posted by Patrice Dziire
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Second season of service?

The Pro Bono Committee of the Connecticut Bar Association has established an Emeritus Project which recruits senior lawyers to provide pro bono assistance to residents who cannot afford to pay for counsel.

There are approximately 30 states in the United States that have similar projects, which are based on the work of a former American Bar Association President, Karen Mathis, who called her original plan the "Second Season of Service."

By enlisting the pro bono services of senior lawyers, the Bar Association is trying to fill some of the vacuum created by legal aid agencies laying off lawyers just as the need for legal aid services increases as a result of the economic problems Connecticut is now confronting.

What are your thoughts about this initiative? We look forward to your comments below.

Posted by the IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

US Tax Court Judicial Conference, April 2009

The United States Tax Court held its annual Judicial Conference in Galloway, New Jersey, USA, in early April. Among many other things, the conference embodied a very well-crafted and productive effort to highlight access to justice issues before a broad range of lawyers, some of whose daily work might not focus on those issues. The conference showed how a court can emphasize to everyone doing business there the importance of pro bono work. A large proportion of petitioners before the Tax Court appear pro se. Anyone with income can have a tax issue, and while the amount at issue may be small, the litigant’s need for adjudication may be great. Thus, the Tax Court very actively encourages pro bono representation, and the recent conference contributed to this overall effort.

The conference’s hosts were the Court’s Judges, of whom some 35 were in attendance, along with eight of their staff. Other participants included some 45 lawyers from the US Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Office of Chief Counsel, whose members represent the government in the Tax Court, as well as one from the Department of Justice, which represents the government when tax issues arise in other fora. Some 150 lawyers from the private bar attended, ranging from members of global firms to lawyers with solo pro bono practices. The network of IRS-funded Low Income Taxpayer Clinics was well-represented.

The discussion topics addressed substantive and procedural matters touching on the full variety of issues brought to the court, such as the valuation of interests in family trusts, rules for discovery of electronic records, judicial deference to agency regulations, and more. Notably, there were repeated opportunities for discussion of pro bono work. One panel focused on various bar- and clinic-sponsored programs which enable members of the bar to represent low-income taxpayers on an occasional or regular basis. Another discussed procedural provisions governing the collection of tax amounts owed, typically of interest to low-income taxpayers. Several judges hosted a breakfast for representatives of low-income taxpayers for informal discussion. A DVD addressed to pro se litigants, showing how they can pursue their cases in court, was distributed to all attendees.

Thus, members of the Tax Court bar had many occasions to hear about access to justice for underserved segments of the population. The International Bar Association and its Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee have the same goal for our sessions at the IBA Annual Conference this year. We plan to use this blog to share a wide variety of ideas about how we as lawyers can find ways to keep this goal in mind.

Posted by Robin Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee