At a time when we face huge political, environmental and humanitarian crises, at the Thomson Reuters Foundation we are working with our partners in the legal profession and our global social enterprise and NGO network to create sustainable solutions. During National Pro Bono Week we are celebrating the power legal pro bono to help build sustainable solutions to issues from child marriage and human trafficking to forced migration and LGBTI rights.
The Foundation's free legal service TrustLaw now works with lawyers in over 175 countries to support a network of over 3,500 charities and social enterprises working to strengthen their communities, protect citizens’ rights and defend the law. Thanks to our growing global network of more than 700 law firms and in-house legal teams, in 2017 alone over $24 million in legal resources was channeled through TrustLaw to organisations working to achieve social change.
At our annual TrustLaw Awards we recognise the exceptional law firms and their non-profit clients using the power of pro bono to shape the world around them. We are routinely staggered at their innovation and commitment to impact.
This year’s award for innovation recognised the creativity of partnering LGBTI activists with pro bono lawyers to design a new and sustainable solution to the routine aggression and harassment faced by LGBTI asylum seekers in temporary housing in the UK.
Tammy, a lesbian refugee from Jamaica was raped as a child by the people she trusted most and was abandoned by the religious institutions which should have protected her. Her ordeal didn’t end after coming to the UK. While waiting for her asylum claim to be processed, Tammy was moved from one shared accommodation to another, where she experienced on-going harassment. Witnessing so many live through the same nightmares as Tammy propelled Micro Rainbow International, an LGBTI rights social enterprise, to create a safe house operated exclusively for LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers.
Given the pioneering structure and the substantial finances required to jumpstart the project, Micro Rainbow International sought pro bono tax and structuring advice through TrustLaw in February 2016. The project marked the start of a long-term pro bono partnership with the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
The temporary accommodation supports Micro Rainbow International’s existing social inclusion activities targeted at the rehabilitation and integration of LGBTI refugees, including peer support groups, arts, life skills and employability workshops. Micro Rainbow is already working on a second safe house which should open in the autumn and they have plans to roll out a similar safe housing concept throughout Europe.
Our 2017 impact award highlighted the huge potential for pro bono lawyers to change national legislation in children’s rights. Legal loopholes in the US have allowed marriages of over 167,000 children as young as 12 in 38 states between 2000 and 2010. These figures are gathered by Unchained At Last, the only US non-profit dedicated to ending child and forced marriage in the country. Most children wed in the US are girls married to adult men, often with a significant age gap, and the subsequent impact on the girls’ health, education and economic welfare is devastating and long-lasting.
The overwhelming legal barriers that prevent organisations like Unchained at Last from helping child brides mean that law reform is the only viable solution. Through TrustLaw international law firm White & Case developed a legal memorandum which provided the backbone for the non-profit’s campaign to gain legislative support for A3091, the first bill to end child marriage in New Jersey. The pro bono lawyers examined existing New Jersey laws that relate to child marriage and identified gaps that would justify legal reform. Despite the Governor’s veto to the bill, Unchained at Last continues its partnership with White & Case and TrustLaw, writing, introducing and advocating for legislation state by state to ensure and end to child marriage in the US.
At TrustLaw we are proud to be associated with these exceptional stories of the impact of pro bono and we look forward to another year of collaboration, innovation and impact. Happy National Pro Bono Week.
For more information about TrustLaw go to www.trust.org/trustlaw
Emma Lough, UK and Europe Regional Manager, TrustLaw, Thomson Reuters Foundation