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As California firms plant offices around the globe, one thing they’re sowing is American attitudes about pro bono. Firm leaders in America know that giving away legal services is good for everyone — people get free help, lawyers get to feel good about themselves (and get some training), and firms get good PR. But in some parts of the world, giving away free legal services has never been a big part of the profession. “Pro bono is not as prevalent in Europe because it’s not a part of their culture and because the government handles more services for the poor,” says Marybeth La Motte, manager of community responsibility for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which has offices in London, Paris, Rome and Milan. There are other obstacles. It’s harder to handle pro bono work in small offices. And at many firms, foreign offices are often staffed by American lawyers who may not be allowed to practice local law. But many attorneys in foreign outposts are eager to pitch in — it’s finding the work that’s been the problem. “In the U.K., pro bono is not as popular or encouraged as in the U.S., but the trend is definitely becoming more so,” says Katie Graham, a British construction lawyer at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker’s London office. Many American firms are trying to encourage pro bono by counting it toward billable hour goals and emphasizing it in annual reviews. A motivating factor for some is that a poor pro bono record can blight a firm’s image and hinder its recruiting. Pro bono work “helps people see who we are,” says Orrick Chairman Ralph Baxter Jr. Baxter says he began revamping his firm’s pro bono program 18 months ago when he hired La Motte. The need to improve the program was made clear shortly after when The American Lawyer‘s 2002 pro bono report card was released — the firm placed 71st out of 100. Law students, clients and others, Baxter says, “do judge law firms on their character as well as their expertise.” Baxter launched a series of charitable initiatives and, he says, began recording and reporting his firm’s pro bono work more thoroughly. The year before, he’d hired La Motte to head the firm’s new community responsibility program, which encourages charitable giving and volunteering in addition to pro bono work. The firm also assigned each domestic office a pro bono coordinator and partner-in-charge of pro bono. The firm plans to roll out programs for its foreign offices in the coming months. Orrick says its pro bono hours in the U.S. have climbed 32 percent, from 14,534 in 2002 to 19,125 in 2003. Firmwide reports and e-mail bulletins carried pro bono news across the Atlantic, piquing the interest of European lawyers. Antonio Papi Rossi, an associate in Orrick’s year-old Milan office, realized he could bring a personal volunteer project into Orrick as pro bono work. Rossi had provided legal and other services to homeless people through a charity called “Dinner with Friends.” At his former firm, he says, he kept his efforts quiet. Once encouraged, his Italian peers were more than happy to help. “They answer with enthusiasm and do their best though they are very surprised to know there are so many poor people in our city!” Rossi wrote in an e-mail. “Honestly, I don’t know why legal pro bono work is followed so little in Europe. America is a wonderful example in this field.” John Lynch, a partner in Latham & Watkin’s Paris office, says he’s also had no shortage of volunteers after helping establish the firm’s pro bono programs in Germany (seven months ago) and France (18 months ago). But he had to tread carefully. “In France, there are more welfare-type agencies and more protection than in the U.S. There’s an awful lot of people who do this kind of work for a living,” he says. “We don’t want to be viewed by the bar as taking work away from people.” Kristian Wiggert, managing partner of Morrison & Foerster’s 21-lawyer London office, ran into trouble when he began expanding the firm’s practice in 2000. MoFo had a stellar pro bono record in the United States but lacked connections with the community in London, making it hard to find work. In 2001, MoFo linked up with the Solicitors’ Pro Bono Group, a 7-year-old non-profit clearinghouse for pro bono projects. With a pipeline of potential assignments, the London office was able to drive up pro bono hours. At the end of 2003, attorneys in MoFo’s London office averaged 39 hours. Paul Hastings also turned to the Solicitors’ Pro Bono Group to bolster its program in London. Paul Hastings’ Graham says the existence of the non-profit itself reflects heightened awareness of pro bono in the U.K. “[Pro bono] was unheard of in my junior career” in British firms, she says. “It was never marketed as a career progressing thing to do.” Graham has recently donated time working on construction industry guidelines which, she says, should reduce time, cost and the likelihood of things going wrong on construction projects. Pro bono work promises to grow in Europe as federal budget cuts reduce services provided by legal aid. Nicholas Aleksander, a London-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher tax attorney, says legal aid in the U.K. is already getting squeezed, reducing public debt counseling, tenant-landlord dispute mediation and employee benefit claim issues. More big-firm lawyers may soon appear in free legal advice centers. But Aleksander’s pro bono work won’t change. Since 1996, he has worked as outside counsel to MediCinema, a group that brings movie theaters to hospitals, complete with Dolby sound, velvet drapes, nursing staff for emergencies and flat areas for beds. Says Aleksander, “We showed the latest James Bond release the same time it premiered in London.”

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