[The original concept of pro bono is to guarantee universal access to law and justice. For their part, lawyers strive to apply the rule of law and ensure that clients, whoever they are, have equal access to justice. Lawyers therefore have a vested interest in ensuring that the justice system is fair, and that the rule of law and human rights are not impaired.]
Although the culture of pro bono in France is not yet as strong as in Anglo-American countries, local bar associations and law firms are taking steps to be part of it by offering free legal assistance to those with few resources ("aide juridictionnelle").
French law firms are now looking to offer pro bono support to charities, NGOs and non-profits with a social and environmental impact. Some are applying the directives of their UK- or US-based head office, while others are establishing their own policies, foundations and endowment funds. [At Gide, for instance, in 2022 we celebrated the tenth anniversary of our pro bono programme that covers financial, legal and skills support. More than 2.5 million euros have been donated through our endowment fund, one of the first to be set up in France by a law firm, and at least 20,000 hours of pro bono by some 500 lawyers and support staff have been carried out for more than 100 different charities in need.]
Clearinghouses such as Trustlaw and the Alliance des Avocats pour les Droits de l'Homme, the first one to be established in France and supported by the Paris Bar in 2009, are gaining traction. The Paris Bar even established its own foundation in 2011, the Barreau de Paris Solidarité, which offers support to legal and community projects, promotes actions/matters of general interest, and provides financial support to charities developing pro bono initiatives in the Paris region. The foundation also organises an award ceremony every two years to showcase and celebrate the pro bono work carried out by Paris-based law firms and individual lawyers.
Additionally, major corporations, listed companies and committed clients alike are increasingly pushing firms and lawyers to establish pro bono and further corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies to ensure that they are working with like-minded service providers.
Lastly, pro bono is now also high on the list of expectations of young graduates when choosing the law firm they wish to work for, as they seek personal fulfilment and meaning in their professional lives. This, in turn, makes pro bono a question of strategic importance for law firms everywhere, at a time when the trend known as the ‘Great Resignation’ is taking hold globally. A study in 2014 by the Paris Bar, Sciences Po's Law School, the Barreau de Paris Solidarité foundation and Linklaters found that 60% of the law school students surveyed would pay significant attention to the socially responsible practices of their future law firm.
While the concept of pro bono is longstanding, it has only recently started gaining ground and taking hold among law firms in France. The coronavirus pandemic, the conflict in Ukraine, and the various environmental and social catastrophes worldwide, while dramatic in themselves, are pushing lawyers everywhere, including in France, towards pro bono and further CSR activities. And that is something to celebrate.