AltraLaw, the UK’s first not-for-profit law firm, and Reed Smith, were among a raft of firms and lawyers who recently collected LawWorks awards for their pro bono activity.
At its annual pro bono awards, held virtually because of covid-19, AltraLaw won best contribution by a small or medium firm award for its “compassionate” work in helping a family through a traumatic situation involving discrimination at work which had had a wider impact on the victim’s family.
The Welsh firm’s founder, Nathan Vidini, who is leading the case, was described by the client’s wife as “a life saver”.
All AltraLaw’s profits are gifted to charities chosen by the firm’s clients and, instead of fee income targets.
Vidini has set the standard high and urged all firms to support and encourage their staff to be involved in pro bono work - the firm also gives paid volunteers’ leave to all its staff.
He said: "It is important to enable and empower all employees to give back, but more so, have them choose the causes they support, which are closest to their heart.
"Most firms want their lawyers to be engaged in pro bono work as it is good for marketing and ticking their corporate social responsibility (CSR) box, but few help them practically to achieve this.
"We don’t set any fee-earning targets at AltraLaw so there is no pressure to ‘make up’ time spent on pro bono cases."
Instead, the firm has a pro bono target of 100 hours per year and encourages its lawyers to exceed this.
"This year," added Vidni, "we are expected to have contributed more than £150,000 worth of free legal advice to those most in need in society.”
He said AltraLaw wants to be seen as an 'ethical pioneer', through its unique business model.
Reed Smith picked up the award for best contribution by a large firm in recognition of the significant growth of pro bono activity in the last few years.
It now ranges from immigration help for undocumented children to disability benefits tribunal representation.
The firm also provides free commercial advice to 250-plus charities.
At the awards, hosted by past Law Society president Christina Blacklaws and sponsored by LexisNexis Legal & Professional, Sam Cottman, director of pro bono at Travers Smith, won the award for best contribution by an individual.
His role as pro bono director began two weeks before lockdown in March, but that did not stop him from then restructuring the firm’s pro bono programme around four pillars (climate, environment and sustainability; diversity, inclusion and social mobility; vulnerable groups; and the rule of law).
Cottman’s pro bono activity includes leading the firm’s work as corporate partner for JUSTICE’s expert panel investigation into the over-representation of black and minority ethnic (BAME) youth in the criminal justice system.
He has run the firm’s domestic violence clinic in East London for nearly five years; and established a specialist advocacy team to take on clients referred by the National Centre for Domestic Violence.
Cottman also set up a partnership with Justice and Care to represent victims of human trafficking
He said: "I am thrilled to have won the award and grateful to the judges for their support and to my firm for the opportunity to drive our pro bono work forward."
He commented: “I have the privilege of overseeing our legal work across a wide spectrum of issues such as climate change, racial justice and diversity.
“However, a significant part of my personal practice is focused on representing victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking.”
He said the courage shown by his clients who have suffered this kind of abuse is humbling.
“To be able to put the full weight of a City law firm behind them, often when no one else has stood up for them before, can be life-changing for them and extremely rewarding for me and the many lawyers at the firm who support this work."
LawWorks chair Alasdair Douglas congratulated both the winners and the finalists.
He commented: “All deserve recognition and celebration of their work and the difference they make in enabling access justice, especially over the last difficult year. It was also inspiring to see our first ever virtual awards event broadcast live, and my thanks to the production team.”
Other winners include Raphaella Gabrasadig, Travers Smith; the Greece Pro Bono Collaborative Project; the Online Legal Clinic, Brixton Advice Centre and South Westminster Legal Advice Centre.