Pro BonoPromoting the rule of law and supporting access to justice around the world
DLA Piper’s pro bono mission is to pursue justice in our communities and around the world by advancing gender and racial equality, advocating for children, and combatting hunger.
In 2021, we gave nearly 200,000 hours of free legal advice, making us one of the largest providers of pro bono services in the world. While much of our work involves advising individuals who otherwise could not afford a lawyer, we also represent nonprofits and small businesses in underserved communities.
Pro bono is a professional obligation for US lawyers; it benefits our firm and communities, strengthens our sustainability and diversity and inclusion efforts, and offers our lawyers new perspectives. We believe in a collaborative approach to pro bono, and often work alongside firm clients, legal service providers, and others to broaden the impact of our pro bono efforts.
“Being separated from my children was unbearable. Our reunion was ecstatic.”
Ali is a Kurdish refugee who, with his family, fled his home when ISIS took over his village. On their way from Turkey to Greece, his wife and youngest daughter died when their overcrowded boat sank. And on an overland journey to Europe, Ali was separated from his children. Two of them, Naza and Mohammed, were held by people traffickers and only located three years later. Ali's third child has never been found.
After arriving in the UK, Ali needed help to reunite with his two remaining children. This is when we met him. With no legal aid for refugee family reunions, pro bono support is essential.
With an immigration specialist at Just Right Scotland, we worked for a nearly a year on Ali’s application. In August 2021, his children were granted visas, and a month later, Ali went to Heathrow Airport to reunite with them. The family are now doing well, and the children have learnt English. Mohammed wants to work in IT, and Naza wants to be a businesswoman.
How we do pro bono
Our values underpin everything we do, and delivering high-impact pro bono work is a key way we live them. All our lawyers and trainees do at least 20 to 50 pro bono hours every year. Many do more than this.
Pro bono allows our lawyers to improve access to justice, gives them exposure to new areas of law, and improves their legal skills. For our trainee and graduate lawyers, pro bono work is a core part of their training and development.
We focus on systemic change, and have two goals when developing new projects: resolving the issue before us, and learning from the challenges. Through this identify problems in systems and work to improve the system to decrease or - ideally - remove the need for pro bono assistance.
We also think differently. Through user-centred design thinking, we engage rights holders to challenge our thinking and ensure our solutions meet our clients' needs.
Our pro bono practice also supports our ESG offering and credentials. We work with individuals, NGOs and UN agencies to promote access to justice, good governance and a more sustainable future.
“Making a difference in the lives of people who need help. That's why I do pro bono.”
Our international pro bono practice has three main focus areas:
- Supporting climate justice and conservation
- Supporting forcibly displaced people
- Good governance and shared value
In every region we operate in, we have a pro bono director and associate responsible for designing and delivering projects. These projects align to the three focus areas above, but are tailored to the particular needs of the region and location in question.
- Since 2017, more than million Mozambicans have fled their homes because of conflict and climate-related disaster. DLA Piper Africa Mozambique has reviewed and analysed the country’s laws to help UNHCR advise the government on a national framework for protecting internally displaced persons that aligns with international standards.
- GenderCC South Africa is a member of a global movement working for gender and climate justice. We’re helping GenderCC with legal requirements and contracts related to the Urban Agriculture Project. This initiative will improve climate resilience and food security, and create sustainable jobs at urban farming sites across Johannesburg.
- As a trusted pro bono partner to UNHCR, DLA Piper Africa firms provide invaluable support to UNHCR’s work across multiple jurisdictions in Africa, including novel analytical guidance on the development of laws to protect internally displaced people and stateless persons.
- Over 100,000 people living in East Africa are stateless, making it hard for them to access education, healthcare and formal employment. DLA Piper Africa firms in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia are helping UNHCR on this challenge. They’re exploring how provisions of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child that grant children the right to a nationality can be domesticated into national law. This would help ensure children in East African countries are protected from statelessness.
- In Melbourne, one of our lawyers is seconded to the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. They're working on a range of civil and human rights issues for Indigenous clients.
- In Hong Kong, solicitors assist at the Rainlily clinic. There we advise women who have experienced sexual harassment and discrimination and help them to seek compensation through the Equal Opportunities Commission.
- We teach practical legal skills courses to Pacific Island law students. Courses cover access to justice, rule of law, pro bono, client interviewing skills, legal ethics, and drafting file notes and letters of advice. These skills help them transition from university to careers as lawyers.
- Our lawyers provide advice and capacity building support to Pacific Islander entrepreneurs and Indigenous tech startups to assist with growth.
- In Belgium, we work with the Brussels Bar Association to run a legal helpdesk for asylum seekers. This helpdesk was set up in 2022 in response to the ongoing reception crisis in Belgium. It gives everyday legal information and help to hundreds of asylum seekers denied access to appropriate accommodation, food and medical care.
- Our lawyers deliver legal education training courses for refugees in Germany, France, Poland, Hungary, Belgium and Italy through Know Your Rights, our flagship programme. We’ve hired a Ukrainian lawyer to help us to deliver support in Poland to Ukrainian refugees.
- In France, we run a pro bono clinic to help asylum seekers navigate the complex asylum system. We recently helped two girls from West Africa, who were at serious risk of female genital mutilation, obtain asylum.
- We support a number of NGOs in Greece, including the Greek Council for Refugees. We support them on strategic litigation before the European Court of Human Rights on issues such as pushbacks and detention. We also have a secondment programme where lawyers work for the Greek Council for Refugees in Athens.
- We use technology to increase access to justice and to connect displaced people with lawyers. 120 of our UK lawyers gave legal advice and information to over 4,300 Ukrainian clients through the Ukraine Advice Project. We worked with a technology startup to build a secure platform that connects Ukrainians with lawyers in a chat-style messaging service.
- Cross-practice teams of lawyers are supporting Carbon 13, the only UK-based business accelerator focussed exclusively on carbon reduction. Our lawyers advise new ventures on the risks and pitfalls of startups and identify where they need technical advice. We create long-term partnerships to help ventures build and scale to achieve their climate ambitions.
- We responded to the crisis in Afghanistan by running a legal information and advice project to help over 5,000 Afghans. We’re representing a number of Afghan refugees in their claims to bring their families to the UK.
- We’re working with TRAFFIC and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust to reduce poaching and trafficking of endangered wildlife in Madagascar. The project is focused on the effective implementation of wildlife legislation, and enforcement of measures to combat wildlife crime and disrupt trafficking networks. It also acts to address the underlying corruption that allows international wildlife trafficking to flourish in Madagascar and the sub-Saharan region.
In 2021, we helped Linda Monks to obtain birth certificates for her two young grandchildren. They've had a tough life: their father’s in prison and their mother's homeless and on the streets, both with drug and alcohol problems. Linda's given up her retirement to take the kids in and raise them. The applications were successful and the children are now enrolled to attend school.
“You were the only lawyers who actually cared and took my case on, even though it was a big job and you did it for nothing.”
Working with commercial clients
Many clients with in-house legal teams approach us to collaborate on pro bono projects. Often, their lawyers are keen to help but lack pro bono opportunities in their businesses. By working with clients on pro bono, we can use the varied skills and experience of in-house teams all over the world.
Refugee Legal is a community legal centre in Australia for refugee and immigration law, policy and procedure. With Pfizer Australia, we supported Refugee Legal’s special legal clinic on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
“This is the first time that our legal team has participated in a legal clinic where we provide advice to individuals," said Rebecca Lacey, Senior Legal Director, Pfizer Australia & New Zealand. "Assisting with the Afghanistan clinic has been a humbling experience.”
In the UK, we partnered with several commercial clients, including Mondelez and NatWest, to give urgent immigration advice to thousands of Ukrainians.
“Being able to liaise directly with people who are often in a very vulnerable situation has been a humbling but incredibly rewarding experience,” said Neil Campbell, Managing Legal Counsel, Outsourcing, Technology & IP, Natwest.
We partnered with Oracle to deliver a series of legal education training sessions to refugees in France.
“It was a pleasure to help and inform these courageous and enthusiastic young people. We hope to participate again,” said Philippe Masset, Legal Director, Oracle France