Pro bono: Allen & Overy at the cutting edge of legal service innovation

Press release dated 12th November Detailing the Development of Allen and Overy's Pro Bono Work in National Pro Bono Week.

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The way in which pro bono and community work has progressed is really impressive and I'm not sure that, ten years ago, we could have predicted how far reaching its impact would become. It shows that our people want to give something back, which means we have succeeded in making it part of our culture.

London (PRWEB) November 12, 2008

National Pro Bono Week (10-14 November 2008) is now in its seventh year. During this time, the way in which law firms volunteer free legal advice, and the impact this work has around the world, has changed dramatically.

Now, the pro bono work that law firms do involves the sharpest and most innovative legal expertise, conducted at an international level, and its impact is reaching far beyond the legal sector.

The way in which pro bono and community affairs work has evolved is testament to the importance that law firms like Allen & Overy place on it. In the last year, Allen & Overy's lawyers have donated over 55,000 hours of their time worth over £16.5 million.

It is important to re-emphasise, in the current financial climate, the major commitment that firms like Allen & Overy make to pro bono and community affairs work.

Senior partner David Morley comments: "Volunteering our legal expertise for free, to those who would otherwise not have access to justice, goes right to the heart of our business. It's not something we only do in the 'good times' - it's something that makes good business sense and has long been part of our culture."

To mark the start of National Pro Bono Week, Allen & Overy is highlighting via four flagship projects how pro bono work has evolved over the years: from lawyers donating their time at local law centres, to long-term management commitment to community projects, and now to complex, innovative work at an international level to help fight organised crime and promote greater prosperity across the developing world.

David Morley continues: "We're a big international business so we absolutely have to behave in a responsible manner. If we don't, we lose the trust of our clients and our people - and then we don't have a business at all.

"The way in which pro bono and community work has progressed is really impressive and I'm not sure that, ten years ago, we could have predicted how far reaching its impact would become. It shows that our people want to give something back, which means we have succeeded in making it part of our culture."

The four projects that show how Allen & Overy's pro bono and community affairs work has developed are:

  • Free legal advice
  • Supporting a failing school
  • Preventing the exploitation of children
  • Microfinance in developing countries

Celebrating 10,000 clients receiving free legal advice at Battersea Law Centre

The oldest of the four projects, and one demonstrating huge success within the traditional model of providing free legal advice to people who couldn't otherwise afford it, is Battersea Law Centre. The Centre has just reached the milestone of advising its 10,000th pro bono client, and Allen & Overy has supported it for 17 years, donating a total of 27,000 hours of lawyer time worth over £6 million.

A unique partnership with an East End school

Allen & Overy has a relationship going back ten years with the Bethnal Green Technology College, a school in an area where 52% of children come from families on unemployment benefits and 88% have English as an additional language.

The connection started with mentoring sessions for pupils and was strengthened in 2005 when the firm helped the school to avoid closure. It has now signed a three-year partnership with scope to help with the governing body, the management team, finance, human resources, premises management, marketing, funding, training for students in employability skills, work placements and lessons in discrimination law, human rights and the youth justice system. This support comes from many different departments across Allen & Overy, and this whole-firm commitment shows a new, multi-disciplinary approach to community engagement by an international law firm.

New legal tools to fight the online commercial sexual exploitation of children

The commercial sexual exploitation of children on the internet is large and growing, but shutting down the illegal websites is extremely difficult. Allen & Overy lawyers recently conducted research across 11 European countries (together with White & Case lawyers in Moscow) for the charity Missing Children Europe. This research showed for the first time how payments to these websites can be legally blocked or traced back to the criminals operating them.

Until Allen & Overy's work on this, the many stakeholders - banks, credit card companies, internet service providers and law enforcement agencies - faced a legal minefield in disclosing information to the authorities. It was not known whether tracing or blocking the payments would breach the complex web of contract law, data protection law, privacy law and banking secrecy rules in different countries across Europe.

Allen & Overy's work has shown that there is a legal basis for doing this, so Missing Children Europe are taking the first steps towards creating a European Financial Coalition of stakeholders against the online sexual exploitation of children. A Steering Group of financial companies, police authorities and NGOs is now in place and is expected to be supported by funding from the European Commission. Members of the Steering Group include Visa Europe, Mastercard Europe, PayPal Europe, Microsoft and Europol.

New ways to fund loans to individuals in developing countries

Allen & Overy has announced the launch of an international microfinance group made up of 100 lawyers from 14 offices around the world. The launch of the microfinance group comes after a firm-wide appeal to lawyers with experience and an interest in microfinance to come forward to progress and coordinate the leading work the firm has done in this area.

Microfinance is the provision of loans (known as microcredit) and other basic financial services to individuals in the developing world. The poorest people in developing countries are often denied access to mainstream banking services either because they are deemed too expensive or too risky for the banks to provide.

Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) provide loans (sometimes as small as USD25) to very poor people, often on the basis of "group lending", where if one person in the group defaults, the rest of the group has to make up the shortfall so there are sufficient social pressures to ensure a high level of repayment - which is 97% on average.

Allen & Overy has led the way in this complex area having worked on numerous microfinance deals, including the two landmark BOLD microfinance deals , which together provided over USD200 million of loans to microfinance institutions in 17 countries.

Further information

Find out more about our work:

To talk to someone about our pro bono work please contact Guy Nicholls guy.nicholls@allenovery.com, tel: +44 20 3088 4176.

Notes to editors

1. Allen & Overy is an international legal practice with approximately 5,500 staff, including some 500 partners, working in 30 major centers worldwide.

2. In this press release 'Allen & Overy' means Allen & Overy LLP and/or its affiliated undertakings.

3. The term 'partner' is used to refer to a member of Allen & Overy LLP or an employee or consultant with equivalent standing and qualifications or an individual with equivalent status in one of Allen & Overy LLP's affiliated undertakings.

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