We are well underway on the first day of our European Pro Bono Forum in Paris.
Jean Castelain, the president of the Paris Bar, set the tone from the beginning with incisive remarks acknowledging that "the mentality is evolving" in France. As he stressed, there is a growing recognition that the private sector has an important contribution to make to the public good.
Mr. Castelain identified some of the gaps in an otherwise extensive state-funded system of Aide Juridictionnelle in compelling detail.
And he emphasised that lawyers have a unique contribution to make through voluntary "pro bono" legal services, particularly in conjunction with civil society organisations.
Mr. Castelain particularly impressed the audience with his announcement of an initiative to create a new foundation to support pro bono activities in France.
Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Foundations, followed Mr. Castelein with remarks about the important role lawyers play as the scope for public interest legal advocacy expands in a variety of contexts, including China.
And Michael Smyth, late of Clifford Chance, highlighted the potential for law firms and corporate legal departments to increase their support for the critically important work of NGOs.
He challenged the private sector lawyers in the room to each find one organisation from among the 100 in attendance with which they could begin developing a sustained relationship.
Smaller workshops have continued these themes and many others in more specific detail, and the hallways and lobby have been alive with energised discussions about future projects and collaborations and the astonishing degree to which pro bono has already developed in continental Europe.
We expect the energy to continue throughout the afternoon into this evening's reception, and we look forward to an exciting conclusion of the Forum tomorrow at the beautiful premises of La Maison du Barreau.