BERLIN (TrustLaw) - Pro bono could grow fast in Germany, as the financial woes hitting European governments increase the need for free legal help, but the practice still lacks professionalism, the head of Save the Children Germany says.
The idea of providing free legal support to non-governmental organisations has been slow to catch on in Germany, where pro bono is not engrained in the culture.
“CSR (corporate social responsibility) of corporations is only slowly growing,” Kathrin Wieland, chief executive of Save the Children Germany, told TrustLaw.
“If you compare the budgets that German corporations give for CSR work it’s tiny compared to the U.S. or UK. It’s really still ridiculous.”
Substantial pro bono projects are still difficult to come by in Europe's economic powerhouse, according to a survey law firm Latham & Walkins carried out for the Pro Bono Institute.
But pro bono in Germany and across Europe has the potential to expand quickly, Wieland said.
“There’s a huge need for pro bono work in Germany and I think it could grow fast,” she said at this week’s international pro bono conference in Berlin, organised by non-profit organisation PILnet, the Global Network for Public Interest Law.
“As we know, most European governments lack funds and resources and will go on lacking them in the next 20, 30, 50 years, so I think the social sector will develop in all European countries,” she said. “It will have to.”
Save the Children Germany – launched in 2005 – is one of 29 independent members of the international children’s charity. Through international law firm Freshfields it has gained pro bono legal assistance on contracts, brand agreements and changes in national bylaws.
“If you cooperate with international brands of course then it goes into international law and that’s where we always need experienced support,” she said.
Previously, Save the Children contracted Freshfields to conduct research on the extent to which legislative frameworks supported child survival in countries with high child-mortality rates.
Germany owes its growing pro bono experience to international firms importing the culture and to student exchanges, Wieland added.
“The talent pool (has) studied abroad and come back with Anglo-Saxon concepts and they expect their employers to do something for the social sector,” she said.
But, for now, the pro bono culture in Germany still lacks experience, she added.
“It’s a diverse sector. It’s growing, it’s still developing, it lacks professionalism.”