In the early 2000s, Argentina faced one its biggest crises which resulted in unprecedented socio-economic consequences. As part of the response, a group of partners from the Buenos Aires Bar created an initiative to stimulate legal services associated with public interest issues.
Today, that initiative is the Buenos Aires Bar Pro Bono and Public Interest Working Commission (Comisión de Trabajo Pro Bono e Interés Público). It is the nexus between people or civil entities requiring legal services and the legal professionals that can serve this demand, and its work illustrates a vision of understanding the law as a tool for social change and amending public policies.
The commission’s role is to provide free legal assistance in public interest cases which have an impact on broad sectors of the community, and include multiple topics such as political transparency and corruption prevention; childhood at risk; right to health; microfinance and sustainable finance; access to justice and social inclusion.
Demand for pro bono in Argentina is coordinated by the commission across the country under the Pro Bono Federal Network (Red Federal Pro Bono) which gathers law firms, attorneys, communities, universities, and other signatories of the Pro Bono Declaration of the Americas. The network seeks to help develop the pro bono practice, facilitating peer support between members on different activities to foster pro bono culture throughout Argentina. Pro Bono Challenge (Desafío Pro Bono) is one of the most recent initiatives spurred by the commission and the network, more information can be found here.
TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global programme for pro bono legal work has an Argentina-based office and is a major actor with whom the commission collaborates given their shared purpose. As a network, TrustLaw also helps NGOs and social enterprises with their legal needs. The networks’ trajectories and commitment are as inspiring as that of their members’ work.
At Keidos, given our impact business model, we intend for our pro bono work to develop the impact ecosystem to promote its progress and that of its stakeholders on the topics covered by our services. This includes building capacity and training, developing networks, collaborating with organisations and promoting and participating in working groups or forums.
However, the events of this decade mean that stakeholders’ expectations are higher than ever, and as demands evolve, so does our role as lawyers. This poses multiple challenges for legal practitioners as bigger commitments and collaborations are demanded (and needed). This is relevant since pro bono work is linked in particular to traditional legal services.
Reality proves that the private sector and NGOs have grown beyond traditional practices, resulting in high-impact solutions. The legal sector is no exception and therefore must keep up with current developments. As new legal needs emerge, a strong framework must be developed through which greater social impact can be achieved and measured.
All of which invites us to reconsider two main components regarding pro bono practice. Firstly, a broader understanding of the legal services reached by the notion of public interest captured by its definition. The adoption of integrated approaches of social purpose and profit to achieve more fair and inclusive societies drives the advance of new practices of law. Secondly, how can the social impact delivered by embracing these new practices be measured, if impact can be achieved in numerous ways. Why still be limited to an average number of hours performed?