Pro bono work can be hugely rewarding for firms and solicitors alike. This compilation by the Society shows the impact it makes on solicitors and the charities they support
Case study: one

Shepherd and Wedderburn/Safe Harbour

The solicitor firm’s view

We encourage our people to take part in CSR projects, because we see the positive results for everyone involved. They get to face new challenges and take on responsibilities in ways that help them grow and develop. At times this involves advising on unique and complex legal challenges. Our support for Safe Harbour has involved specialists from across our firm, and we are proud to have been a constant in the life of this small but valuable charity.

We support a wide variety of projects. Many, like our work with Safe Harbour, have developed organically. However, we also play an active role in more formal projects. Gillian Carty, our chair, was instrumental in establishing our Citizens Advice Bureau project, which involves our solicitors meeting and helping members of the public. Elouisa Crichton volunteers for Maternity Action, which runs an advice clinic on Mumsnet to help answer questions about maternity and family leave. The firm is a member of the Competition Pro Bono Scheme, established with a number of UK practices to support businesses and individuals with competition law issues. We have been fortunate to advise on several novel issues involving different emerging markets.

Each of our colleagues is encouraged to take up to five days’ paid leave each year to undertake volunteering work with good causes close to their hearts. Last year, we hosted the first (virtual) Shepherd and Wedderburn Values Awards, at which we recognised colleagues who had made special contributions to CSR projects. Having dedicated matters and time recording codes ensures that the time they spend is captured and people feel empowered to participate. The personal growth achieved cannot be overestimated. Particularly during the pandemic, this is a valued and valuable part of our contribution to the communities in which we live and work.

The charity’s view: Duncan Shaw, chief executive officer, Safe Harbour

Duncan ShawSafe Harbour supports people facing serious mental health issues, ranging from undisclosed childhood trauma, sexual assaults and transgender issues to PTSD, stillbirth and other traumatic situations. Often, our clients have not responded to standard NHS services and need long term and effective intervention, support and care. Without the support of Shepherd and Wedderburn, Safe Harbour would not have survived.

The whole team has been consistently on our side. Partner Liz McRobb (pictured) worked with us on our strategy under the Pilotlight programme in 2013, and has mentored us ever since. She also met and listened to clients as they shared harrowing life stories and explained how, through Safe Harbour support, they had been able to rebuild their lives.

Liz McRobbSenior associate Elouisa Crichton supports us with the same passion. She also listens when I need guidance and support to navigate a difficult time, never more so as we face the challenges of the pandemic. Truly, we are all in this together.

In the last year we benefited from having senior associate Lauren Miller join our board, and we continue to receive specialist support from many other committed advisers. To all at Shepherd and Wedderburn, your support has meant we can focus on what matters: people’s lives.

 

Case study: two

Ryan McCuaig/Who Cares? Scotland

The solicitor’s view: Ryan McCuaig, trainee solicitor at Thorntons Law and chair of the board of Who Cares? Scotland

Ryan McCuaigI decided to become a solicitor because I wanted to give a voice to others. That desire is rooted in my experiences of the care system at a young age. Having systems, processes and professionals involved in your life can be overwhelming and, for a child at the centre, it can feel impossible to have your voice heard. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, and it has motivated me throughout my education and career.

When I began studying for my Diploma, I connected with Who Cares? Scotland, a charity providing advocacy for care experienced people, as well as opportunities for them to come together as part of a community and campaign for change to the system. In 2018 I successfully applied to join their board and, in 2019, I was appointed chair. It has been a great privilege to carry out that role alongside my traineeship. Thorntons have been incredibly supportive, for which I am immensely grateful.

Joining a charity board has many benefits for those pursuing a legal career. In private practice you will be expected to demonstrate commercial awareness. Chairing the Who Cares? Scotland board has developed my business skills. The trustees monitor the charity’s strategic direction, as well as ensuring that it meets its obligations to its workforce and those it serves. We also oversee the budgeting process, HR, policy development, and hold relationships with key internal and external stakeholders. As well as chairing meetings, my role often involves ambassadorial and representative work, including relationship development and public speaking, all relevant skills in the “day job”.

Recently, the board recruited the new CEO, Louise Hunter. That involved consultation with care experienced members of the organisation and our staff, reflecting the charity’s values, alongside the more traditional aspects such as reviewing applications and holding interviews. It was important to recruit the right person, and leading that process alongside our vice chair has given me further experience, which will help in my career as a solicitor.

I find my role as chair immensely satisfying, knowing that the work we do helps ensure that voices of children and young people are heard; and that we are fighting for their rights, and helping them form bonds with other care experienced people. That is why I do it. The fact that the experience might also be useful professionally is a bonus.

The charity’s view: Marie-Claire Jones, director of fundraising and development at Who Cares? Scotland

Marie Claire JonesRyan has been an asset to our board from the moment he joined. Not only does he bring his valuable perspective as a person with lived experience of the care system, he also brings an astute mind, knowledge of law and an eye for detail, that come with being a legal professional.

There is a great synergy between the legal sector and our work. We are both committed to human rights and to representing those who may need help in having rights met. If any readers would like to know more, and how they can be involved, visit www.whocaresscotland.org

Case study: three

Gavin McEwan/Lawscot Foundation

The solicitor’s view: Gavin McEwan, partner and head of Charities, Turcan Connell

Gavin McEwanWhen the Law Society of Scotland asked me in 2015 whether I would be willing to help it create a new charity to relieve hardship amongst young law students, I immediately agreed. The Lawscot Foundation is the result of that pro bono work. Following its establishment, I volunteered as one of its first trustees. My pro bono involvement has included a range of work and advice from drafting the constitution, providing guidance on charity law and governance, to drafting key resolutions and fundraising agreements, as well as carrying out the day-to-day role of charity trustee.

When I was at law school in the 1990s, the financial situation for many students was becoming much tougher. For many, it has not improved since. That bright potential law students are denied an opportunity to join the profession merely through financial and other disadvantage is an injustice: it represents a loss of young legal talent from diverse social and economic backgrounds.

The work of the Foundation means so much to the students receiving bursaries, mentoring and other support. It also means a lot to me personally: coming from a similar social background, I knew it was the right thing for me to commit time towards. It has been hugely rewarding to watch the Foundation carry out its valuable work, to know that it is making a difference, and to have made a contribution of my own.

The charity’s view: Heather McKendrick, Lawscot Foundation

Heather McKendrickNo matter the size of the charity, there are certain tasks and regulatory functions that must be completed, each year. It’s very easy, especially when getting a new charity off the ground, to focus on its purposes – such as giving grants to young people – but the legal and regulatory requirements are just as important.

This is why we are so grateful to have had Gavin’s expertise, advice and patience from the outset. He has been extremely generous with his time and knowledge in helping the charity to go through all the required steps just to be registered. This has included drafting the constitution, advising on what is required by the regulator, OSCR, and even what must be displayed on publicity materials.

It’s hard to imagine navigating the complex world of setting up a new charity without this sort of professional expertise. While the output of charities, such as fundraising and impact, is normally what is focused on, the work of the solicitor keeping us right and providing guidance is critical and does not often get the spotlight it deserves!

The pro bono specialist

Rebecca Samaras

Rebecca Samaras is director of Pro Bono and Clinical Legal Education at the University of Edinburgh Law School, member of the Society’s Access to Justice Committee, trustee of the Access to Justice Foundation, and chair of the Scottish University Law Clinic Network.

Rebecca SamarasForever the positivist, I start with a much-used quote by Einstein: “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”

2020 will be remembered as a year of crisis, and there are still extremely difficult times ahead for us all, not just in 2021, but for many years to come. University law clinics, law centres, charities, indeed all advice agencies have reported, unsurprisingly, a significant increase in demand. With further reductions in grant and public funding expected, last year highlighted the widening cracks in access to justice provision.

Throughout 2020, the Access to Justice Committee worked hard to campaign for crisis support, not just for now, but for permanent solutions. There were financial campaigns too, with grants being awarded by the Community Justice Fund through the Access to Justice Foundation to charities such as JustRight Scotland, Shelter Scotland and the Legal Services Agency.

Collaboration is key, and this is where opportunities can and should be harnessed. Swift action taken to move face-to-face support online will, I hope, allow us to continue to help the most vulnerable in society. All Scottish university law clinics have taken such steps. This has not been easy, and we all rely heavily on the pro bono support of our legal community. 

I would like to end with a call to action (or a shameless plea!) for the collaboration and community for which our profession is renowned. We cannot provide support without you, and the need for more volunteers for our law clinics is greater than ever. If you are an individual or a firm and would like to know about pro bono opportunities in your community, please get in touch at sulcn@outlook.com

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