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Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas Implementation in Colombia

Friday, January 22, 2010

Following up on the establishment of Fundación Pro Bono Colombia (FPBC) and concomitant Roundtables held in Bogotá in May, the Vance Center continued to build the momentum to achieve implementation of the Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas (PBDA) in Colombia by sending staff to interface directly with the local legal community over a sustained period. For two months during the summer of 2009, the Vance Center worked on-site in Colombia to accomplish several missions. We met with representatives of seventeen Colombian law firms that are PBDA signatories to assist them in reaching their commitment to provide an average of 20 hours of pro bono work per attorney per year. Launched in January of 2008, the PBDA gives signatories until the end of 2010 to meet this commitment, and the Vance Center’s presence at the halfway mark was intended to provide transitional assistance to ensure that pro bono practice in Colombia becomes fully operative.

During meetings, pro bono coordinators and associates engaged in wide-ranging discussions about the status of their pro bono programs, their interests and concerns with respect to pro bono work and their ideas for how to continue to promote a pro bono culture within the Colombian legal community. “By working on the ground with Colombian lawyers and hearing their practical concerns, we were able to garner insights that will help us customize our programs to respond specifically to the needs of this country,” observed Vance Center attorney Cristina Quintero, who added, “The firsthand experience we gained was invaluable.”

In addition, the Vance Center worked to support the newly established FPBC in its efforts to expand the pro bono network in Bogotá. In dialogues with the FPBC’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee, we advised on ways in which the FPBC could continue its work, by organizing Bogotá’s legal profession and serving primarily as a clearinghouse for pro bono projects and cases. The Vance Center also expanded its reach beyond Bogotá by accompanying FPBC staff to Medellín, where the Universidad EAFIT hosted a presentation to introduce the FPBC attorneys and law students in Medellín.

Whenever possible, the Vance Center distributed hardcopies and electronic versions of our recently published manual Pro Bono Implementation Guide for Law Firms, which was enthusiastically greeted by the firms. The Guide is available at our website, at We also solicited submissions for our ongoing compilation of pro bono projects, Spotlight on Pro Bono in Latin America, and worked on the survey the Vance Center is conducting whose results will be synthesized and analyzed in the upcoming Interim Report on Pro Bono Activities at Latin American Firms. Our on-site work in Colombia enabled us to produce a detailed report on the pro bono discourse in Colombia specifying unique characteristics of the local legal environment that impact pro bono including decades of conflict and civil war; disincentives to unpaid work built into firms’ salary structures; lack of expertise in legal areas affecting indigent individuals; social divides; and safety issues that require special sensitivity. In response to similar questions raised by local attorneys regarding the implementation of pro bono, the Vance Center will soon produce a document containing “Frequently Asked Questions” and their answers.

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