UK-based group Advocates for International Development (A4ID) is planning a trip to Australia this year to seek more involvement from Australian firms and non-government organisations in international pro bono work.
A4ID developed from a desire within the UK's legal community to institutionalise a commitment to international pro bono and now has more than 16,000 lawyers from at least 18 countries who have undertaken work referred to them, including Australian-qualified lawyers
Elisabeth Baraka, projects officer at A4ID, said while no Australian-based firms have yet become involved with the organisation, it is hoping this will change in the future.
"Most projects can be undertaken from lawyers' desks - whether that be reviewing loan documentation for a microfinance institution, advising on risk management and duty of care for employees and volunteers based in dangerous locations, or drafting a simplified guide to a new piece of legislation in a country that doesn't have the resources to do this," she said.
"Occasionally, though, lawyers have provided training in developing countries at the invitation of a local NGO or government. For example, a team provided training to lawyers from the Lao Bar Association (in Laos) on alternative dispute resolution, and training on negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements was delivered to government officials from African, Caribbean and Pacific nations."
In less than three years, A4ID has brokered in excess of 200 requests for assistance for more than 100 development organisations with an impact in at least 50 countries. Last year, the legal assistance provided was worth well over $2 million.
Baraka said the organisation aims to further the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by facilitating the provision of free legal advice and assistance through its network of lawyers.
"Having one point of access enables tiny organisations based in developing countries to access some of the most well-resourced law firms in the world. It also means that larger organisations with legal needs that span multiple jurisdictions can approach one organisation for these multi-jurisdictional problems and find lawyers from across the world to address their requests," she said.
Firms such as Clifford Chance have been involved in helping promote and support microfinance in the Middle East and North Africa.
International law firm Reed Smith advised Valid Nutrition (VN) - which develops, manufactures and distributes ready-to-use foods (RUFs) - on intellectual property (IP) laws to protect both its name and its products and ways of safely licensing its IP to promote its work.
Chris Marshall, senior pro bono and community manager at Reed Smith, said the firm had seen and experienced first-hand the impact of the VN's program by visiting Africa.
"This project provided a great opportunity for our lawyers to provide meaningful assistance to VN's work and to use their core skills to support international development. Working with an organisation as professional as VN made the project both stimulating to partner and accessible for our lawyers. Working on this, and the other projects referred to us through A4ID, has been a great way for us to be of practical support to those working to promote the UN MDGs," he said.
Claire Martin, from VN, said the development of RUFs heralded a revolution in the treatment and prevention of malnutrition.
"A4ID's assistance has been instrumental in protecting public access to these vital products. As a charity, without access to large ﬁnancial resources, Valid Nutrition would not have been in a position to safeguard public access to the new range of lower-cost RUFs we are developing. A4ID has, therefore, helped to ensure that RUFs are available to those that need them at the lowest possible price," she said.
- Sarah Sharples
For more information about A4ID visit www.a4id.org.
Check out this week's edition of Lawyers Weekly to find out what is happening domestically with pro bono work.