By Edwin Rekosh
Madrid is a city of astonishing creativity and optimism, even during hard times. I’m here for PILnet’s 6th annual European Pro Bono Forum, which kicks off this Thursday, 25 October, and already Madrid’s legal and NGO communities have laid out a welcome that’s gracious and inspiring.
To visit Madrid is to be reminded of the commonalities that bridge cultural and historical differences around the world. Spain functions as the European hub for South America, so the presence of significant participation from that region is no surprise. But the South Americans will not be the only non-Europeans--this year, as pro bono culture is starting to emerge almost everywhere, the Forum will be more global than ever before, with more than 40 countries represented and participants from every major region of the world.
Spain shares characteristics with many of the countries that will be represented at the Forum. As a former colonial power, its long-standing legal culture and traditions have left their mark on a significant segment of the world. But Spain went through a remarkable transition from dictatorship following the death of Franco in 1975, just as Eastern European countries would experience their own transitions to democracy a decade later, and as a result it has re-invented itself in many ways. That gives Spain and its legal and NGO communities their own unique features. The development of pro bono culture in Spain, despite its distinct traits, bodes well for its development in many different contexts.
Spanish lawyers are acutely aware of the recession’s disproportionate impact on the vulnerable, and many see pro bono as a critical addition to the legal arsenal—a new and immensely promising tool to help advance justice and equality. When the Pro Bono Forum opens on Thursday morning, no less a figure than Spain’s Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, will be delivering the keynote address—a clear message of support for pro bono from the very top. Likewise the Madrid Bar has done everything possible to strengthen the impact of this year’s Forum.
In each of the Pro Bono Forum’s previous host countries—Germany, France, and Hungary—the event has served as a catalyst for the spread of pro bono. In Spain, pro bono as a concept is still young but the idea of the legal community’s social responsibility has been present for centuries. This tradition of lawyers serving the public good, combined with the spirit of innovation that you find here even in times of duress, creates a fertile ground for the rise of pro bono.
With law firms, bar associations, law schools, corporations, and NGOs lining up in support, Spain is ready, in the words of one madrileño who is already involved with pro bono, to “take a step further towards a more just society.”
This year’s Forum has a diverse agenda covering a broad range of issues, with a close look at global pro bono, human rights issues, and, of course, pro bono in Spain. TrustLaw will offer detailed coverage of the major stories coming out of the Forum starting 26 October and PILnet will be live Tweeting highlights from the event (#PBForum). So join us shortly for the sixth annual European Pro Bono Forum.
Edwin Rekosh is the Executive Director of PILnet, The Global Network for Public Interest Law