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An in-house pro bono initiative has just launched in the U.K. as part of the country’s Solicitors Pro Bono Group. The project, called Law Works for Community Groups, is designed to coordinate in-house pro bono work and to raise the social consciousness of employed professionals. But there’s a difference between this effort and similar initiatives in the states: To do good, U.K. in-house lawyers have to get waivers from law society rules that bar them from working for entities other than their companies. And because U.K. law departments are typically smaller than their American counterparts, which makes volunteering rather difficult, corporate lawyers are encouraging outside counsel to join in. BAE Systems was the first in-house member of the SPBG in 1998. Already, its aviation services group has given legal assistance to set up a furniture recycling plant and a parish council. Philip Perrotta, its legal director, says that everyone benefits from the work: “It increases the company profile in a positive way and improves the links with the local community.” Assistance from corporate lawyers is not necessarily limited to transactional work. Perrotta’s fellow pioneer, Zurich Financial Services, has established a scheme with its lawyers providing litigation and debt collection advice at the local voluntary Citizens Advice Bureau. Dan Fitz is general counsel at Cable & Wireless, one of a handful of companies that have just joined the initiative. He points out that it is more difficult for corporate counsel to provide legal advice to anyone apart from their own company because of the regulations that force them to obtain waivers. Even so, he says, “I am happy to encourage and facilitate pro bono work.” Fitz says that commitment to pro bono work also influences how he chooses external firms. Cable & Wireless works with London’s Allen & Overy and the London office of New York’s Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, both of which have impressive pro bono records. Perrotta confirms that BAE Systems requires its firms, such as Clifford Chance, to do pro bono work. U.K. firm Lovells was a founding member of the SPBG and is currently acting as co-counsel with Ford Motor Credit U.K. on a project to provide free advice to businesses. David Robinson, Ford’s legal adviser, says that because in-house teams are relatively small — his is five lawyers — having co-counsel is very helpful in terms of numbers and expertise. In addition to Lovells, the project has also involved local lawyers.

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