Sarah Farrelly is Legal Manager with TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono legal programme.
When I packed up and moved to London in 2016 to work for the TrustLaw team at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, I never expected to be returning to Dublin less than four years later to co-host the first ever Pro Bono Day Ireland. The day was part of the wider inaugural European Pro Bono Week, which involved legal events and workshops across 11 cities in the region and was organised collaboratively by a number of leading law firms from the European Pro Bono Alliance, as well as pro bono clearinghouses and organisations, including my team at TrustLaw.
Indeed the announcement last week that the 2020 PILnet Global Forum will be held in Dublin for the first time shows what an exciting time it is for pro bono in Ireland. The past year has seen the appointment of two amazing full time pro bono associates, Eithne Lynch at A&L Goodbody and Carolann Minnock at Arthur Cox, which has had a major impact on the speed with which pro bono is growing, alongside the ongoing trojan work of the team at the Irish clearinghouse PILA (Public Interest Law Alliance, a project of FLAC)since it was established in 2009.
The opening of Pro Bono Day Ireland began with an event jointly hosted by these two firms, with the Managing Partner of Arthur Cox noting that in over 100 years, the two firms had never hosted an event together and that today, they hosted two events in one day. That opening remark captured the spirit of collaboration underpinning the excellent events which happened across the week. This “Legal Health Check” workshop saw a packed room of non-profit organisations, charities and social enterprises receiving pro bono legal guidance from the lawyers on a range of organisational legal issues including employment law, intellectual property and corporate governance issues.
Later that day, I returned to McCann FitzGerald, the firm where I was lucky enough to train and qualify, and present to both familiar and new faces who were keen to learn about how they could use their legal qualification to help those organisations helping the most vulnerable in their communities. It was fantastic to see such enthusiasm for pro bono from the lawyers in the room and I look forward to working with former colleagues again soon!
The day closed with another packed room, this time at the offices of A&L Goodbody where a panel hosted by Larry Donnelly reflected on the development of pro bono in Ireland, highlighting certain challenges as well as some inspiring stories on the impact which legal pro bono has had for marginalised communities. Drawing from my experience as Legal Manager for EMENA at TrustLaw, I spoke on some recent pro bono trends from an international perspective, including the desire of legal teams to work on impactful pro bono projects as well as an increased interest from in-house counsel teams to build their pro bono practices, often working in partnership with law firms across the region. I also highlighted an encouraging development in the social enterprise space – the publication in July by the Irish Government of the first ever strategy on social enterprise for the country. TrustLaw hosted its first workshop for social enterprises in Ireland in 2018 and we are excited to work with leading social enterprise networks like Irish Social Enterprise Network, Social Innovation Fund Ireland and Social Entrepreneurs Ireland to continue fostering the growth of this sector.
Rounding off the pro bono celebrations, I was very grateful to be able to attend the fantastic 50th anniversary celebration for FLAC, and to reconnect with many of the amazing lawyers I worked with during my internship there a decade ago. During the panel discussion, one of the founding lawyers reflected that often times you get into public interest law work to help others, and you end up helping yourself. Looking back on my last four years working with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, I feel no words could be more true.
In the 10 years that TrustLaw has been operating across Europe, 2019 proved to showcase an incredible amount of collaboration and commitment to promote and grow the pro bono ecosystem. I am really excited to see the sharing of pro bono best practices across the region that will enable pro bono to grow in new markets and to truly thrive in existing markets. I look forward to being part of the next European Pro Bono Week and to PILnet's Global Forum 2020 taking place in my home town!
If your organisation is interested in receiving pro bono legal advice or if you’re a law firm or in-house counsel team interested in developing your pro bono work, get in touch with TrustLaw – firstname.lastname@example.org