Wolf Michael Kühne (Milan) is the Co-Country Managing Partner of DLA Piper Italy, and the founding partner of the firm's Italian office. Wolf Michael is an experienced corporate adviser with particular experience supporting clients in the strategy and operations aspects of extraordinary cross-border and complex matters.
Wolf Michael's leadership has been instrumental in embedding a pro bono culture in DLA Piper's Italian offices. He has been involved in the Italian "Statelessness Legal Clinic" which the firm has set up in collaboration with the Italian Refugee Council. The Statelessness Legal Clinic is the first clinic of its kind in Europe, and as far as we are aware the first ever clinic set up by a law firm in Italy.
Q: What pro bono experience has been the most meaningful to you and why?
A: A refugee appeal case that I did recently that illustrates the complexity of the refugee crisis in Europe at the moment. Our client came from Africa to Italy and then moved on to Germany. He integrated very well into German life over a period of 14 months. He learned German, volunteered in a refugee center in Germany and worked as a cultural interpreter assisting other new arrivals to better integrate. Then suddenly and without notice he was sent back to Italy under the Dublin Convention. He was stranded in Italy with no Italian language skills. An NGO contact of mine asked me to help him. First we ensured his safety in the Italian refugee center. Then we guided him through the Italian appeal procedure (which I'm pleased to say we achieved in a record time of four months!). Then we helped to organise a place for him in a recognised German federal program. This gave him the possibility to get specific approval for a visa to get back into Germany and he now has a state permit in Germany. What made this experience really amazing was seeing how complicated the rules and relationships with public authorities are in both countries. It is nearly impossible for an individual without assistance to negotiate the process. The pro bono support of qualified lawyers clearly made an enormous difference.
Q: How do you feel Pro Bono contributes to the development of lawyers?
A: I believe pro bono is important in terms of the self-confidence of our young lawyers. This is an opportunity to show them that the long years of study equips them to make our world better. This tool is the collective effort of their families and of the community, to bring them to that stage of knowledge and maturity where they can understand that they have a moral duty to give something back to the same community. I believe by doing pro bono work we are teaching our younger lawyers the consequences of law in all its aspects. Law is a very powerful tool if you want to have an impact on society. You can touch the most vulnerable parts of our society and seeing evidence of the consequences of the work we are doing is very fulfilling.
Q: Pro bono is still in the early stages in Italy. What do you think is the future of pro bono in Italy? What opportunities are there for DLA Piper Italy, which already has a well-established pro bono practice?
The legal market in Italy lags an average of around 20 years behind the rest of the world. We are the first firm concentrating in a very visible way on pro bono activities in Italy and we are creating market trends. Values are becoming a differentiator and I am proud of DLA Piper's values. Our clients increasingly demand that law firms give something back, so from that point of view our pro bono practice is clearly an enormous opportunity and competitive advantage for us. Young lawyers in particular are extremely enthusiastic about contributing to pro bono activities, so in the ‘war for talent’ it also makes a difference.
Last year we received the prestigious Sodalitas Foundation "Social Award". This was the first time that this award has ever been given to a law firm. We are extremely proud of this achievement not only because we are the first, but because it shows a kind of innovation in our market. It also had an enormous echo internally as everyone saw that by each person adding their small contribution we can really make a difference.