Many U.S. lawyers say they feel obligated to engage in pro bono work. They say that providing legal services to local communities and organizations is gratifying. Lawyers in the U.K., Australia, Canada and South Africa—countries whose law firms and legal departments also have well-organized pro bono programs—tend to agree with the sentiment.
But elsewhere in the world, where pro bono programs are often ad hoc or nonexistent, lawyers are missing out on the satisfying work. For instance, many Brazilian lawyers are forbidden to participate in pro bono work because local bar associations have proclaimed that such services will adversely affect other attorneys’ livelihoods.
In June 2010, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of news and information provider Thomson Reuters, founded TrustLaw, a program designed to spread pro bono work to lawyers around the world by connecting them with international, nongovernmental organizations and social entrepreneurs.
“The idea was to create a marketplace for pro bono, knowing that in most of the world, lawyers don’t do pro bono,” says Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
TrustLaw currently comprises about 600 members, of which more than 200 are law firms and in-house legal teams, including lawyers from General Electric Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Merck & Co.
Since TrustLaw’s inception, participating lawyers have worked on a variety of large pro bono projects, such as researching legislation and establishing best practices to suppress organizational and social problems including corruption and rape. TrustLaw also connects lawyers with smaller projects, such as reviewing employment contracts or working on intellectual property or tax issues.
HP lawyers have been working on a project in India to assist a social enterprise called mDiagnostica, which developed a platform that allows doctors in urban areas to remotely diagnose patients in rural areas.
“They’re helping to look at regulatory issues and set up this platform to ensure that it can operate throughout the whole state of Kerala,” says Nick Glicher, senior manager, legal, at the foundation. Glicher works with Carolina Cabrera, HP’s Chilean-based global pro bono coordinator, to manage the project.
“The project is a great example of the efforts and teamwork of HP’s legal department to improve pro bono,” Cabrera says. “The other thing that is very important is the support and commitment from our general counsel, Mike Holston. He is the motor and chain that we need to be very passionate with these kinds of activities.”
With more global law firms and legal departments showing interest in TrustLaw, Villa is hopeful that the program will expand to 1,000 members this year.
“And then, the challenge for me and the team is to really be able to serve all these constituents as well as when we were small,” she says.