The Female Faces of Pro-Bono in the City

Published 16th September 2019
At the heart of the legal profession is the concept of service and justice. This is encapsulated by the concept of pro bono in publico, “free for the public good,” a notion that does not exist in any other professional service.

This centuries old tradition of a lawyer acting in the interests of those without access to justice was first institutionalised in commercial legal firms in 1997. I had the privilege of being appointed as the UK’s first full time pro bono solicitor by the partnership at Hogan Lovells (formally Lovells). The appointment was quickly replicated across the City with remarkable lawyers taking up roles as the City firms saw the need to address the access to justice gap.

For the most, the UK pro bono community is women-led, with some notable and inspirational exceptions – Paul Yates at Freshfields and Tom Dunn at Clifford Chance. The collective leadership of women in marshalling the talent and skills of their firms to secure access to justice is remarkable – and their passion to do more gives us hope in these fragile and fractured times.

– Yasmin Waljee OBE

Yasmin Waljee OBE

Senior Counsel and International Pro Bono Director, Hogan Lovells

Yasmin is an international human rights lawyer and was key to establishing a respected pro bono practice at Hogan Lovells. She founded the firm’s practice for victims of trafficking and forced labour and is currently acting for victims of sexual violence seeking accountability for ISIL foreign fighters. In her 22 years of practice as a pro bono lawyer she has succeeded in four UK policy changes including the introduction of a compensation scheme for British victims of terrorism abroad.

What will the next 100 years bring?

“Ideally groundbreaking leadership with firms willing to take on the greatest injustices which continue to exist and a challenge the rule of law: gender inequality across the Middle East; climate action to protect our fragile world; access to justice for those facing extreme income inequality; anti-corruption issues. And finally perhaps we will also see the appointment of the UK’s first Pro Bono Partner making pro bono a real legacy of St Yves.”

Felicity Kirk

International Pro Bono, Ropes and Gray

After 5 years in the Clifford Chance aircraft financing team in Paris and Tokyo, Felicity was asked to set up the Clifford Chance global CSR programme, and so began her 20 year career in pro bono. She moved to White & Case in 2000 to set up their programme outside the US, following this with a 2 year stint as London director of Lawyers Without Borders, a small NGO that leverages the power of pro bono to support rule of law programming in developing countries. In 2015, she joined Ropes and Gray to develop their London and Asia pro bono programme.

“It has been a huge privilege to have been involved in the growth and acceptance of pro bono in the UK, Europe and Asia. A particular highlights has been the collaboration between firms on a collective response to the Grenfell Tower fire supporting the North Kensington Law Centre

Shankari Chandran

Pro Bono Consultant, Ashurst

For a decade, Shankari Chandran was the Head of Pro Bono and Community Affairs at Allen & Overy. Appointed in 2000 to develop a global pro bono programme, she was based in London and her work spanned more than 30 offices around the world. Through the leadership of organisations such as the Law Centres Network and Reprieve, Shankari was part of coalitions that lobbied the UK government for better legal aid funding and advocated for the representation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. She now works for Ashurst LLP, developing its law reform project which creates systemic change by improving laws that affect marginalised people.

“Whilst international law firms are still dominated by men at the partnership level, social change is largely driven by women. That’s not surprising – justice is a manifestation of respect, equality and empathy for our fellow human beings.’

Janet Legrand QC (Hon)

Former Senior Partner and Global Co-Chair of DLA Piper.

When she was appointed Queen’s Counsel Honoris Causa in 2018, the Lord Chancellor described her as a ‘pioneer in enhancing the role of women in the law, promoting social mobility, diversity and inclusion within her firm and the wider profession’.

As an Advisory Board member of New Perimeter, the firm’s global pro bono initiative, she has helped to guide the global practice’s strategic direction, supporting access to justice, social and economic development and sound legal institutions in under-served regions around the world. She has also leveraged her client relationships to develop long term projects on access to justice and economic empowerment in countries she has represented, such as Zambia and Timor-Leste.

“Pro bono is part of the glue that binds our firm together. In a perfect world, there would be no need for our pro bono practice, but as long as the need is there, I’m optimistic that our people will continue to volunteer and our practice will continue to grow in scale and impact.”

Elsha Butler

Head of Pro bono, Linklaters

Elsha has led Linklaters LLP’s pro bono practice for the past thirteen years; directing its strategy, internationalising it and taking it to scale. Recent successes include informing ASTI’s campaign for crucial changes to the law in the UK to tackle acid violence and securing successful claims for asylum in the UK by individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries due to being LGBT+. As well as her passion for social justice Elsha champions agile working, chairing her firm’s Family and Carers Network and supporting working parent initiatives.

“The strength of the pro bono sector owes a great deal to leadership by women. I’ve witnessed great evolution in the sector over time, and look forward to seeing the pace of evolution accelerate in the coming years as we capitalise on tech to innovate solutions to social challenges and injustice”.

Rebecca Greenhalgh

Senior Associate and Pro Bono Manager (USA and Asia)

Over the last 12 years she has managed a commercial law firm pro bono practice whilst also engaging and collaborating with the wider legal sector through a number of initiatives designed to increase pro bono impact. Rebecca was called to the Bar in 2007 and admitted as a solicitor in 2014.

Rebecca serves on the Secretariat for the UK Collaborative Plan for Pro Bono and she partnered with Felicity Kirk on behalf of more than 30 Plan member firms to co-ordinate the provision of pro bono support from across the legal profession to & through North Kensington Law Centre in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. Rebecca launched UKademy, a free annual professional development conference for law firm pro bono managers and now co-leads on the UKademy+ initiative, enabling pro bono professionals to share experience and insight throughout the year. Rebecca is the first non-US board member of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (the global membership organisation for law firm pro bono professionals).

“Pro bono has allowed me to work with so many talented and inspiring women from all walks of the legal profession. I am incredibly fortunate to be part of a community where women are recognised and respected for their expertise and able to take on so many leadership roles. Although we are yet to see a UK firm create a pro bono partner role I know that day will arrive.”

Helen Rogers

Pro bono senior manager, Allen & Overy

Helen has led the pro bono programme at Allen & Overy since 2012. She also sits on the Pro Bono Committee of the Administrative Justice Council in the UK, and the Pro Bono Leadership Council of PILnet, the Global Network for Public Interest Law. Helen is Chair of Trustees of the Law Centres Network, the national voice of Law Centres and their clients, which strives for a just and equal society where everyone’s rights are valued and protected.

“To my mind, that is what all great female leaders have in common: humility, resilience and a commitment to creating opportunities for others. As the pro bono community continues to grow in the UK, we can draw inspiration from our clients and female colleagues across the legal profession to create a sector that is resilient and collaborative.”

Emma Rehal Wilde

Pro bono manager, Debevoise & Plimpton

Emma joined the pro bono profession in 2006, on the cusp of it becoming commonplace to see pro bono managers working in law firms across London. Emma was part of a small, women-only, team of pro bono heads that has set up the first exceptional case funding project for immigration detainees. She co-found a project that won the first ever state-funded compensation for a survivor of human trafficking. She also secured clarification on the legal position for women breastfeeding in public.

“Pro bono often provides opportunities for women lawyers to develop new skills and areas of practice. For women who feel like they can get lost in the crowd, pro bono gives them the chance to demonstrate their abilities and stand above their peers. In this way, pro bono has given women lawyers opportunities to shine and forge ahead with their careers as a result.”

Newsletter Sign Up
Get the latest updates on the First 100 Years Project and join our journey.