Behind the Scenes of the 2012 “Survey of Pro Bono Practices and Opportunities”

The “Survey of Pro Bono Practices and Opportunities,” a comprehensive guide to pro bono practice around the world, is one of the firm’s largest and most global undertakings.

December 06, 2012

With nearly 100 Latham lawyers and professional staff across Latham & Watkins’ 31 offices, the 2012 “Survey of Pro Bono Practices and Opportunities” was updated to cover more than 70 jurisdictions in 2012. Coordination of the survey was led by Brussels associate Gianni De Stefano with support from the firm’s Public Service Counsel Wendy Atrokhov, Brussels-based partner Howard Rosenblatt and Brussels-based paralegal Gregor MacDonald.

In this Q&A, DeStefano and Atrokhov offer a peek behind the scenes, discussing the need for this resource, the data gathering process, and why the firm decided to take on such an ambitious project. 

Why is there a need for this survey?

DeStefano: Outside the United States, many lawyers, especially those working for US-headquartered firms, are eager and able to provide their services for free because of the global pro bono initiatives of their firms; however, many lawyers do not know where to start or who they should be contacting. This lack of information has been a significant barrier to the development of pro bono culture and practice in many countries.

Atrokhov: That’s right – we’re finding that many lawyers worldwide are clamoring for more information about pro bono in their jurisdictions and how to get involved. Although pro bono culture can vary greatly from country to country, we’ve found that the underlying issues driving pro bono work are very much universal in appeal. Taking Latham as an example, lawyers throughout our 31 offices in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East have gravitated toward our pro bono program with great enthusiasm even though the concept is new in many of these countries.

What sorts of hurdles confront non-US lawyers looking to do pro bono work?

DeStefano: I am an expat who has been in Brussels with Latham for the past six years and I’ve been involved with pro bono since the beginning. Key barriers to engagement for non-US lawyers have generally included the lack of opportunities and a chronic shortage of basic information about the pro bono landscape in countries outside the traditional centers of the United States, UK and Australia. For example, during my first three years in Brussels, we were literally going to well-known organizations and asking for appointments. We were basically saying Latham is available to provide free services, but it was almost impossible to get any pro bono work.

Atrokhov: In some jurisdictions, engaging in pro bono is not as straight forward as it is in jurisdictions like the United States. There are regulatory considerations and other barriers. The report covers that as well. It tells people the current state of pro bono in the different jurisdictions, how they can engage, and also what the barriers may be.

How did you approach the survey?

DeStefano: We started by trying to find resources that are publicly available. Of course, with that, there is a big issue because of the language barrier. For this reason, we assigned jurisdictions to lawyers within Latham who had the requisite language capabilities and also, where possible, had was some cultural connection to a particular jurisdiction. We also tried to enlist as many local counsel as possible in countries where Latham does not have offices.

Why did the firm want to take on this project?

Atrokhov: Growing our global pro bono practice has been a priority of ours for some time. As a firm, we view pro bono as a core component of our culture. One of the goals is to bring our pro bono activity outside of the United States in harmony with the level of activity that we have in the United States. We’ve been restrained because of the lack of pipeline more than anything else and understand that we are not unique in this regard. The Survey is meant to help address this. We put it out there and it’s used by our peer firms, in-house teams and NGOs, with the aim of helping to really build out pro bono culture and activity around the world.