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Pro Bono Declaration Finalised

Friday, June 15, 2007

  • Organization: Latin Lawyer Online

Latin Lawyer Online

Release: June 12, 2007

Pro bono declaration finalised

The final draft of the 'Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas', a regional initiative to support and promote the practice of pro bono, has now been completed.

After a lengthy process of almost two years and across seven countries, the final document is designed to cover the particular challenges faced by pro bono practitioners in each country in the region. It has been posted online today.

"I and the whole drafting committee feel very pleased that the first part is now completed," says Horacio Bernardes, part of the drafting committee and partner of Xavier, Bernardes, Bragança, Sociedade de Advogados. "Now comes the time-consuming stage - gathering signatures and promoting the declaration. Nonetheless we are very confident it will be well received by legal professionals across the region."

The declaration is designed to be "both a statement of principle and a plan of action for expanding the commitment of lawyers to provide legal services to the poor and underprivileged in the Americas". In particular, the declaration asks signatories to commit to a minimum numbers of pro bono hours a year.

"We are very pleased, after a two year effort, to have a definitive version of the Declaration," agrees Todd Crider, chair of the Cyrus Vance Center of the New York City Bar, which is coordinating the initiative, and partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. "Now, it is our hope that it will find support across the hemisphere to become an expression of the will and commitment of our profession in the Americas."

The first draft was vetted in conferences and consultations in seven countries. Members of the drafting committee fed back comments and concerns from these meetings, and the final version has some key differences.

The new declaration asks lawyers to commit to 20 hours (or three days) of pro bono work a year, down from 25 hours in the first draft. It also gives signatories three years to reach this target from the date of signing.

"The new figures are more feasible," says Crider. "Asking people to sign up to a declaration which is not achievable creates a culture of failure from the very start. The project needs to be something firms are able to undertake with the expectation and goal of achieving their commitments."

The concept of 'access to justice' has also been widened, to accommodate the needs of larger law firms. Paula Samper of Gómez Pinzón Abogados, the Colombian member of the drafting committee, explains. "The concept of 'access to justice' was sometimes seen as restricted to just court representation," she says. "It was felt the concept should also extend to legal advice and public interest issues."

Bernardes also notes that the new draft also meets the particular challenges faced by pro bono practitioners in Brazil. "The amendments meet both the needs of public attorneys and the position of the bar association," he says. "We are confident the bar association representatives see the declaration as necessary and useful."

Now that the final draft has been reached, the process of gaining signatories can go into full swing. Each committee member is in the process of putting together a steering committee in their own country to assist in this process.

The 'Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas' initiative is coordinated by the Cyrus Vance Center of the New York City Bar. It promotes the concept of a lawyer's social responsibility to help the poor and marginalised and invites legal professions throughout the Americas to promote pro bono work as a way for lawyers to meet their social responsibility. For more information, see here:

For a full examination of the final draft of the declaration and of the practice of pro bono in Latin America, see the next edition of the magazine, in which we focus on pro bono work.

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