Big Law Pro Bono, Inclusion & Diversity and Acces to Justice
In EQUAL in LEGAL’s Trailblazer series we feature Lamin Khadar. Lamin is a qualified lawyer (England and Wales, 2012) and completed his PhD in law at the European University Institute in 2019. His thesis focused on public interest law and access to justice in Europe and was awarded the Mauro Cappelletti Prize in 2020 for the best thesis in comparative law. Lamin’s PhD thesis explores pro bono practice among large, international law firms in Europe and explores the history of pro bono, legal aid and other models of progressive lawyering across Europe.
“Big Law” pro bono (i.e. large law firms providing free legal services for the public interest) is not that new. The first programs were set up in the US in the 1970s as part of a broader effort to engage lawyers and the law in tackling poverty in the US. In Europe, the first programs were set up in the late 1990s following the fall of the Berlin Wall and were part of broader efforts to promote human rights and spread the rule of law in young democracies.
Separately, law firm efforts aimed at promoting inclusion & diversity are also, thankfully, not so new anymore. In London, firms have been increasing focus on inclusion and diversity for nearly two decades now although in mainland Europe efforts are only just getting under way.
What is interesting to Lamin, is integrating pro bono and inclusion and diversity efforts, in a way that they mutually reinforce one another. As Dentons’ Pro Bono Manager he manages the international pro bono practice and works with teams of Dentons lawyers on pro bono matters for a range of clients including NGOs and international organizations across multiple locations in Europe and Central Asia.
Dentons is the first firm to pioneer a combined strategy on pro bono and D&I integration on a pan-European scale. Pro bono and inclusion and diversity professionals collaborate to engage lawyers in working on LGBT+ strategic litigation campaigns, working for asylum seekers and working with Women’s rights organizations.
Direct engagement & moral progress
In a nutshell, the idea is that important social values such as inclusion & diversity are reinforced by encouraging employees to think about what things might be like for people with whom they do not immediately identify. The best way to get people to empathize with others is to get them to put themselves in the shoes of others by bringing them into direct contact with people and ideas that are foreign to them.
Employee volunteering programs (such as law firm pro bono programs), are a great way to achieve this if they are appropriately targeted.
So, in addition to promoting access to justice, Lamin believes that law firm pro bono programs should also encourage their people to reflect on two questions:
“Why should I care about a person who is different from me, in terms of gender, sexuality, culture, physical ability, nationality, ideology, or race?”; and
“Why should I care about a cause that I do not understand or sympathize with, like trans rights or migrant rights?”
Many studies show that learning through experience is far superior to simply reading about something or hearing someone else talk about it. Lamin believes that rather than just talking about inclusion and diversity, through engaging in this kind of pro bono work, through first-hand experience, people come to see the similarities between themselves and people unlike them as outweighing the differences. They come to understand the motives and rationales behind causes that at first seem alien to them.
Through direct engagement with people and ideas that are unfamiliar, people can build empathy and sympathy. This is how moral progress is achieved.