Pro bono legal advice is the longest-standing area of our social commitment. In Germany, our firm took the decision to offer pro bono legal services more than 10 years ago, at a time when pro bono was barely known in the market. We took this decision because there has always been an intrinsic element of social responsibility in legal practice.
There are considerable benefits to providing pro bono advice for us, too: for example, we developed a social franchise system for JOBLINGE. In particular, lawyers in the first year of their career have the opportunity when advising social enterprises to run their own matters, with appropriate supervision, thus gaining valuable experience. Public interest in pro bono work has grown rapidly in recent years, and our pro bono advice is often a good opener with our clients and, in some cases, we have even worked on projects together. For example, clients regularly act as judges for our DebateIt! program, and with HL BaSE Catalyst and our new membership of the UPJ initiative, "Companies: Partners of Youth", we are increasing our efforts to identify new joint projects.
Katharina Berghofer joined our IPMT team in Munich as an associate, in February 2017. In September 2017, she took part in the two-day HL BaSE Training program in London. To start with, the participants studied commercial, "mini MBA"-style topics, to give them the necessary background knowledge. Then, as part of a team of junior lawyers, Katharina met with her social enterprise client in an afternoon workshop, during which the team discussed the business and its legal needs with the social entrepreneur. The enterprises often have many different ideas, and part of the workshop entails working out what the enterprise really needs and where the legal challenges are. After the training, the team works on the legal matter set out in the engagement letter with the client, over a period of six months. We have been working with most of the social enterprises for some time now.
"You come back with extra work, but the experience is extremely rewarding"
Katharina Berghofer and her team are working with "Discovering Hands", an organisation we have been advising in Germany for many years. Discovering Hands has developed a training system for blind and visually impaired women to qualify as "medical tactile examiners" (MTUs) working in breast cancer prevention. Due to their disability, the women have a particularly sensitive sense of touch and this method of preventive screening is simpler and cheaper than mammograms. The qualification opens up greater job opportunities for the women.
What was the legal matter that Discovering Hands needed help with?
"As we are still working on it, I can't reveal too much. Discovering Hands has been on the market since 2011 and now wants to expand its system. In particular, there are IP issues that need to be clarified."
What was it like meeting the enterprises?
"I found it fascinating meeting Discovering Hands and the other enterprises in person. I hadn't realised how many good ideas and social enterprises there are out there. I was impressed with the number of passionate people behind them. We had time to conduct an in-depth consultation. This was a huge advantage for me, as an associate who is relatively new to the firm. With our regular clients, contact is mostly via email."
What have you taken away from your experience with the project?
"I would definitely recommend taking part. When advising the social enterprises, you learn so much for your daily work, for example how to ask the client the "right" questions and better understand their legal issue. Also, the project provides a great opportunity to build up a network within our firm. You meet colleagues from London and the other European offices and, depending on the project, continue working in an international team after the workshop."