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Time for a little chest-puffing. When it comes to pro bono work, American lawyers are the most generous in the world. Lawyers in other countries regularly donate money to charities, but historically they have spent little time on pro bono work. Gradually, however, pro bono is going global, and Americans deserve some of the credit. Happily, part of the reason that less pro bono work is done overseas is that less needs to be done. In France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, for example, private lawyers receive government assistance to represent needy clients in civil matters. And many European governments, say lawyers, are more generous than the U.S. public sector in funding legal aid organizations. “The amount of government funding in the U.S. . . . pales in comparison to many other countries,” says Saralyn Cohen, who coordinates Shearman & Sterling’s worldwide pro bono program. Still, there is plenty of demand for pro bono work abroad. Part of the reason that law firms there have been slow to respond is lack of familiarity with pro bono. “There is a long tradition of being involved in humanitarian activities in France,” says Jean-Luc Bédos, a partner in Paris’s Lefèvre Pelletier & Associés. “[But] generally speaking, pro bono is a concept which is not known and used.” That is also the case in Asia, says Byrne Harrison, one of two coordinators of pro bono at White & Case, which has six offices in Asia. “There hasn’t been a culture of pro bono in law offices over there,” he says. In the United States, in contrast, many lawyers learn about pro bono at a young age by participating in legal clinics during law school. American law graduates, in turn, evaluate job offers in part on a firm’s commitment to pro bono. And law firms use their pro bono work as a major recruiting tool. But as committed as American firms are to pro bono in the United States, they tend to lose their way overseas. Part of the problem is that U.S. firms staff their foreign offices with American attorneys, who are not admitted to the bar of their adopted country. “It is harder to come up with [pro bono] projects that [American attorneys overseas] are qualified to do,” says Carrie Grimm, the pro bono coordinator of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, which has 36 percent of its attorneys located abroad, though only a minority are Americans. Infrastructure is another problem. In the United States, legal aid organizations put needy clients in touch with law firms that have expressed a willingness to help. Shearman & Sterling’s Cohen says that she receives e-mailed solicitations for pro bono projects in the United States every day in her New York office. But it takes much more legwork to find opportunities overseas, she says. “There is no doubt that the [pro bono] infrastructure overseas continues to lag behind the infrastructure [in the United States],” echoes James Windels, co-chair of Davis Polk & Wardwell’s pro bono committee. In short, there are plenty of reasons for avoiding pro bono outside the United States. Fortunately, many foreign lawyers are not choosing the path of least resistance. Pro bono is beginning to flourish overseas, and London is leading the way. “There has been a dramatic increase in pro bono work [in London] in the last four years,” says Suzanne Turner, the London-based co-chair of pro bono at Dechert. Many of the leading firms headquartered in the city, such as Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and Lovells, have full-time community affairs directors who coordinate pro bono work and other charitable activities. And there is now a reliable feeder system for pro bono work in the U.K. The London-based Solicitors Pro Bono Group, formed in 1997, links law firms with organizations in need of free legal advice. Even better for American firms, which typically staff their foreign offices largely with corporate attorneys, the solicitors group specifically targets clients who need transactional legal advice; it is the only organization in the U.K. with such a focus, says Heidi Newbigging, a project manager with the group. Jennifer Bender, a Cleary, Gottlieb associate in London who is active in pro bono, says the solicitors group filled a huge hole in London. Cleary, Gottlieb’s London office is handling about 10 pro bono projects referred by the solicitors group, she says. They include assisting a women’s rights clinic in a poor area of London to organize itself as a limited liability company. The solicitors group “has become one of the main ways we are receiving pro bono cases,” says Bender. Pro bono is perking up beyond London as well. In 1995 Bédos, a corporate lawyer, formed Droits d’Urgence in Paris, the first (and still the only) legal aid organization in the country. Initially, Bédos says, he was able to get help only from British and American firms with Paris offices. But now, says Bédos, French firms provide much of the legal muscle for his group, which helps indigent clients on a range of matters, including securing visa papers and social security payments. “Seven to eight years ago,” Bédos says, “when I met with managing partners in French firms [to talk about pro bono], they didn’t even understand what I was saying. Now . . . they are starting to listen.” In the past few years, lawyers report, pro bono has also picked up in Italy and Germany. In Eastern Europe, pro bono is in its incipient stages, says Edwin Rekosh, the executive director of the Public Interest Law Initiative. Formed in 1997 by the Columbia University School of Law and based in Budapest, the initiative works to ensure that indigent people in Central and Eastern Europe have adequate legal aid. The initiative has worked with law schools in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia to form legal clinics, with the hope, says Rekosh, that the clinics will encourage law students to pursue socially minded work upon graduation. Currently, lawyers at London’s Linklaters supervise participants in a new legal clinic at Charles University Law School in Prague, says Rekosh. “I see [the formation of legal clinics] as a great step to move the pro bono discussion forward in [Eastern Europe],” he says. Such baby steps are now being taken in Latin America as well. New York’s Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, for example, are advising two law firms in Santiago, Chile, about setting up pro bono departments. This cross-border exchange was arranged by New York’s Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice Initiatives, which is working to promote a pro bono culture in Latin America. “In Argentina and Chile there are now efforts to organize pro bono on a serious basis,” says Joan Vermeulen, the executive director of the Vance Center. The Vance Center highlights the extent to which Americans have played a role in spreading the pro bono gospel overseas. Legal aid organizations and law firms have both exercised leadership roles. Jack Londen, for example, a partner at San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster, says that his firm has conducted several meetings in China with local lawyers and judges to discuss the importance of pro bono. The message has started to sink in, says Londen. “Judges and administrators of courts in China are now trying to encourage pro bono,” he says. In addition to actively promoting pro bono, American firms have led by force of example. As they have achieved greater economic stature in London, for example, so has their pro bono work. Lawyers say that U.K. firms have upped their pro bono commitment in part to try to keep pace with the Yanks. “Coordinated pro bono is a recent phenomenon in London, and the U.S. law firms have had an impact on that,” says Christopher Bright, who was a partner at Clifford Chance and then Linklaters before moving in 2001 to Shearman & Sterling’s London office. Adds Esther Lardent, president of the Pro Bono Institute at Georgetown University Law Center: “The U.S. law firm culture has had an impact on U.K. expectations about pro bono.” The American influence has also spread to Germany, where there has been a recent surge in pro bono, says Peter Wand, an associate in Cleary, Gottlieb’s Frankfurt office. He explains that many German associates have learned about pro bono through master’s programs at American law schools. These associates, says Wand, are increasingly quizzing prospective German employers about their commitment to pro bono. “Some German firms now say that [they] are doing pro bono when they recruit,” says Wand. Indeed, a rise in pro bono is one happy byproduct of the globalization of the legal industry. As American firms expand overseas and as foreign law students travel to the United States to complete their legal education, it is inevitable that the pro bono tradition will reach a wider audience. In time, in matters pro bono, American lawyers may have less to puff their chests about. Nathan Koppel is a senior reporter at The American Lawyer. This article first appeared in the September issue.

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