Pro bono

We encourage our people to use their legal knowledge on a pro bono basis to help people in the communities where we live and work, who otherwise lack access to the services we offer.

In our offices around the world we partner with organizations who share our commitment to offering assistance and legal knowledge to those who are in need.

Participation in pro bono initiatives is open to all our people, and many offices offer leave for colleagues to spend on approved pro bono projects.

Whether providing legal advice through local law centers and clinics or assisting charities and non-profits by offering assistance on legal matters, we provide our pro bono clients with the same high standards of client service as our fee-paying clients, and in return, our people are given the opportunity to develop valuable experience and advocacy skills.

Some of our long-standing pro bono projects include:

The United States

Pro bono client prevails at US Supreme Court

In March 2017, the United States Supreme Court, in a 5-3 vote, ruled in favor of firm pro bono client Bobby Moore and invalidated the factors Texas used to determine whether a defendant was intellectually disabled and ineligible for a death sentence.

The court said that a determination of intellectual disability must account for current medical consensus. Our lawyers in Houston and London spent hundreds of hours on Mr. Moore's case, including filing a habeas petition on his behalf and participating in case strategy, development and coordination with co-counsel at other firms.

Mr. Moore was born in 1959. He had an alcoholic father who was verbally and physically abusive. Due to his intellectual disabilities, he failed first grade twice and every grade after that until he dropped out of school in ninth grade. When he and his siblings did not have enough to eat, he would use his earnings from cutting grass to help feed them. His father threw him out of the house at age 14 for trying to protect his mother from his father’s abuse.

At age 20, in 1980, Mr. Moore was involved in a bungled robbery with two other individuals in which an employee of the market being robbed was shot and killed. Less than 90 days later, Mr. Moore was convicted of capital murder as the shooter and sentenced to death.

This case is an example of our lawyers’ pro bono work in this area for many years.

Accountability for Human Rights Violations

In a historic decision, our lawyers successfully represented a Somali torture survivor in his claim against a member of the former Somali dictatorship's National Security Service who ordered and supervised his torture and arbitrary detention decades earlier. The Colonel, now living in the US, was found liable for human rights violations, and the US federal district court awarded damages in the amount of US$15 million. Together with the Center for Justice and Accountability, our lawyers also secured a US$28 million verdict for the family of slain Chilean folk singer Victor Jara against the general, now living in the US, who had ordered Mr. Jara's torture and murder by military personnel in 1973. 


Support for refugees entering Canada

Throughout 2016, lawyers in our Ottawa and Montreal offices have helped groups sponsoring refugees from Syria and elsewhere with legal advice and assistance with drafting documents. We acted as pro bono counsel for the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program through the Canadian government's private sponsorship program for refugees.

Several associates from our Ottawa office have been involved with the program since it was launched in November 2015. To date, we have provided legal support to three separate sponsorship groups, hoping to bring a total of 17 refugees to Canada, including two families from Syria and five Eritreans.

We are also acting on behalf of Médécins du Monde, challenging the legality and constitutionality of the Régie de l’Assurance Maladie du Québec’s policy of denying access to the public healthcare system to Canadian born children of immigrants whose status in Canada is not yet regularized.

Médécins du Monde is an international organization which helps homeless people from its mobile medical trucks and provides free healthcare to those not covered by the public health regime, or who are unable to afford tests or other procedures.

In addition to dispensing medical care, these clinics reintegrate and connect homeless patients with a variety of other appropriate social services.

Negotiating the law

Lawyers and paralegals in our Calgary office provide consultations to local people at a special legal grounds advice clinic in conjunction with Pro Bono Law Alberta and the Calgary Public Library. We have been the sole legal supporter of this clinic since its inception in 2010.

Once a year at the Calgary Public Library, we set up booths for different areas of law – family, landlord and tenant, criminal, civil, immigration – whatever the need may be.

We provide 30-minute consultations to help Calgary citizens identify and assess their issues, and provide substantive and procedural advice, where possible, in some cases identifying publically available resources to help them resolve matters.

Europe, Middle East and Asia

Law Centers provide legal advice to Londoners

In London, we provide legal aid to local people in our community who may not otherwise have access to it. Our lawyers regularly attend evening drop-in clinics organized by law centers in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Croydon (part of South West London Law Centres). They advise on employment, housing and consumer and small claims disputes.

Our team supporting these projects includes partners, associates, trainees and paralegals, and our contribution does not stop at legal advice: our finance team assisted the Croydon center in implementing a more efficient billing system and our marketing team helped to design and produce materials to publicize the center’s work in the local community.

We also support fundraising activities for the London Legal Support Trust, which provides assistance to local law centers. Each year, we host the start of its ‘Walk the Thames’ annual fundraiser in October, and we enter a team in the ‘London Legal Walk Fundraiser’ in the spring.

Emirates Literature Foundation

Our Middle East offices have an ongoing pro bono relationship with the Emirates Literature Foundation, a not-for-profit organization working to break down cultural barriers by fostering a common love of the written word.

The Foundation runs a program of cultural initiatives, including an annual literature festival in Dubai. Recognizing the distinctive contribution that literature makes to children’s lives, the Emirates Literature Foundation focuses on cultivating a spirit of reading, while acting as a catalyst for writing and cultural exchange across the region.

Our work in 2016 included advising on template purchase order terms, the appointment of an events management company, a venue license and sponsorship agreement, and a recording agreement.

Legal health checks for ActionAid Thailand

Lawyers in our Bangkok office conducted a comprehensive legal ‘health check’ for ActionAid Thailand, part of the international charity which aims to ensure that marginalized populations, particularly women and young people, are empowered to live with dignity. We reviewed ActionAid Thailand for potential legal issues relating to employment, IP, risk management and property to provide our client with a clear assessment of its legal needs.


Assistance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

We provide pro bono assistance to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in Australia. We consider this one of the best ways in which we can contribute to closing the education, health and employment gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people in the country.

Through our Reconciliation Action Plan, we have committed to contributing five percent of our total Australian pro bono hours to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, businesses and communities. By the end of our 2015/16 financial year, we had contributed around 26 percent of our pro bono hours to this cause, the equivalent of more than 5,000 hours, or some AS$2m of legal fees.

Our partnership with the not-for-profit organization Jawun has led to a number of pro bono opportunities with Aboriginal businesses in the Redfern and La Perouse communities. Jawun supports the capacity of Indigenous leaders, organizations and communities to achieve their own development goals. This, in turn, leads to lasting, material and measurable improvements in the lives of Indigenous people in those communities. Our work with Jawun includes leasing issues, employment issues, insurance issues, workplace health and safety, environmental and construction matters.

Our work with these organizations began when our 2015 summer clerks helped the Aboriginal Legal Service. This paved the way for a much larger and ongoing national commitment. In 2016 our summer clerks worked with the Redfern All Blacks Rugby League to assist with its preparations for hosting the Koori Knockout competition in October. We continue to help with this.

South Africa

Destitute community saved from unlawful eviction

In 2016, our Cape Town team secured a victory for a vulnerable community in Mpumalanga after the Amashanga Tribal Authority, entrusted to allocate state-owned land to members of the community for residential purposes, approved the eviction and demolition of the Mpumalanga community. This was to make way for a so-called cultural village to attract tourists to the area.

The Authority obtained an urgent ex parte court order under the guise of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE).

Around 150 villagers were left destitute when their homes, belongings, livelihoods and dignity were destroyed; many of them were vulnerable people, including child-led households, the elderly and several widows.

The community sought assistance from the South African Human Rights Commission, which ruled that this action constituted a gross violation of the community’s basic human rights. It appointed Norton Rose Fulbright to represent the community on a pro bono basis.

The eviction and demolition were declared unlawful, and within a month of the court order the Tribal Authority and Municipality was ordered to build temporary habitable dwellings at least equivalent to those that it destroyed. It was then given four months to build equivalent permanent homes.

This constitutes an important victory for the Commission because it sets a precedent for traditional tribal authorities, municipalities and magistrates to be accountable for upholding the constitution when exercising their powers. The judgment also demonstrates the commitment of the judiciary to take a stand against the abuse of vulnerable members of society.

Our work on this case won the “Most impactful pro bono case” award in the ProBono.Org awards in 2016.

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