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International law giants scoop pro bono prizes

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International law giants scoop pro bono prizes

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Latham & Watkins and Kirkland & Ellis the big winners as lawyers use their corporate skills to aid grassroots projects

Law firms and associates from around the world have been celebrated for their commitment to pro bono causes at the 2016 TrustLaw Awards hosted in New York.

US law firms Latham & Watkins and Kirkland & Ellis each won two awards for their efforts, while practices in India and North and South Africa were also recognised at the annual Thomson Reuters Foundation event.

Assistance with a record 49 pro bono projects through TrustLaw led to Latham & Watkins winning international firm of the year, fighting off stiff competition from DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells.

The firm, which claims to have contributed 2.7 million hours of pro bono since 2000, also picked up the collaboration award for leading a consortium of lawyers, consultants, and academics in providing urgent legal advice across 12 countries for the International Rescue Committee in response to the European refugee crisis.

Fellow US heavyweight Kirkland & Ellis collected the impact award after it partnered with Equality Illinois, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights NGO, on legal research which provided the groundwork for successful advocacy efforts to ban gay conversion therapy for LGBT youths in Illinois.

A team of associates from the firm, comprising of David Birnbaum, Evan Knobloch, and Jonathan Man, also picked up the lawyer of the year award for helping Eneza Education '“ a provider of mobile phone-based education in Kenya '“ to raise over $500,000 in the form of convertible notes. The funds will allow Eneza to continue to grow its curriculum and expand geographically.

'The opportunity to help Eneza raise capital provided us with a rewarding way to assist them in their mission of increasing access to education in Africa, using the skills and Kirkland resources that we leverage every day for our traditional corporate clients,' said the group.

The award was jointly won by Yvonne Chilume, founder of Chilume & Company in Gaborone, Botswana, who contributed her commercial skills to a range of African NGO projects.

Microsoft and Indian intellectual property firm Ashu Thankur & Associates teamed up with BEMPU Health, an Indian social enterprise, to protect and commercialise a temperature monitoring bracelet designed to combat neonatal hyperthermia. Their efforts earned them this year's innovation award.

Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa picked up the domestic firm of the year award for being the most active local firm in the TrustLaw network. Hewlett Packard Enterprise won the gong for in-house legal team of the year in recognition of the 19 pro bono projects completed by its corporate counsel team in 2016.

In her welcome speech at the event, Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and founder of TrustLaw, said: 'Over the last six years, TrustLaw has become a game-changing tool to deliver social progress on a global scale. This year, we helped facilitate an incredible series of pro bono projects ranging from targeted response to the European migrant crisis to working towards banning gay conversion therapy in Illinois.

'The awards commemorate these extraordinary projects, the brilliant lawyers who volunteer brain time for free, and the NGOs and social enterprises who work tirelessly to drive social change.'

Speaking to Solicitors Journal earlier in May, Yasmin Waljee OBE, international pro bono director at Hogan Lovells, and Michael Davison head of the firm's litigation, arbitration, and employment practice, explained the importance of a pro bono culture and how it helps to create better lawyers.

'Some very junior lawyers have had to deal with some very difficult issues, making submissions to court that they believe passionately in,' said Davison. 'That brings a layer of intensity to the work we do. It makes us better lawyers.'

For practical guidance on developing a pro bono scheme, read Kathryn Ludlow, chair of Linklaters' corporate responsibility committee, on setting up and administering a global charitable programme.

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