TrustLaw is the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono platform. TrustLaw connects high-impact NGOs and social enterprises working to create social and environmental change with the best law firms and corporate legal teams to provide them with free legal assistance.
The TrustLaw team has been working with social enterprises in Ireland for a number of years, connecting them with Irish lawyers for pro bono legal advice and assistance. Working with organisations like Social Innovation Fund Ireland, TrustLaw has been able to facilitate legal support for some of Ireland’s best social innovations.
In 2018, TrustLaw, in partnership with law firm Arthur Cox, brought together leaders of the social enterprise sector to discuss the challenges they face and the legal frameworks and support available to them. Social entrepreneurship had become a particularly topical issue in Ireland, with the Department of Community and Rural Affairs coordinating a “Developing the Potential of Social Enterprise in Ireland” consultation with the aim of publishing a strategy later in 2018.
Two years on since this event, TrustLaw were invited back by Arthur Cox to lead a Legal Health Check workshop for a cohort of social enterprises who are awardees of the Social Innovation Fund Ireland. Participants had the opportunity to speak directly with lawyers from Arthur Cox on the legal challenges and issues they face when running their day to day operations.
One of the participating social enterprises was MyMind - a counselling and psychotherapy organisation who are an active member of TrustLaw and who have received pro bono assistance from Arthur Cox lawyers on many occasions. Krystian Fikert, CEO of MyMind outlined “Clients of MyMind are able to access our services by either booking an appointment online or by calling our offices. In order to improve our online booking system a few years ago, we wanted to find the best software company to help us. Through TrustLaw we were connected with the excellent lawyers in the Technology and Innovation team at Arthur Cox who provided us with pro bono legal advice on how to find the ideal software company as well as the best way to protect our related intellectual property. This advice helped us to be more effective and in line with all relevant laws and regulations”.
Dress for Success Dublin, an organisation which promotes the economic independence of women by providing career development tools and a support network, also participated in the event. “The workshop was very informative, insightful and very timely especially as we review the current Charities Governance Code requirements”, said Angela Smith, CEO of Dress for Success Dublin.
Another social enterprise in attendance was The Shona Project an organisation which aims to educate, empower and inspire todays Irish girls. Antoinette McDermott, Board Member for The Shona Project said, “I found the session extremely informative, useful and practical… the subject matter expertise of the lawyers was invaluable.”
The hosts and participants were also joined by Andrew Forde, Head of Rural Strategy and Social Enterprise Unit for the Irish Government. 2019 saw the publication of the National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland 2019-2022 which is focussed on building awareness of social enterprise as well as growing and strengthening the sector and achieving better policy alignment.
Momentum is already growing, and with the publication of the Government Policy, the next three years will likely see further improvements in conditions for social enterprises in Ireland. In 2019, the Thomson Reuters Foundation conducted a poll on the best country to be a social entrepreneur, Ireland moved from bottom ranking three years ago to 36th place as it reported improvements in almost all categories. Sarah Farrelly, Legal Manager with TrustLaw outlined, “The Thomson Reuters Foundation’s work is focused on supporting more inclusive economies around the world. Our goal is to help create a positive environment in which social enterprises and purpose-driven companies can thrive. It is a very exciting time for TrustLaw to be working with Irish social enterprises and we look forward to continuing partnering with key industry players to grow and strengthen the sector by facilitating free legal support for their members.”
If your organisation is interested in receiving pro bono legal advice or if you’re a law firm interested in developing your pro bono work, please sign up to TrustLaw membership here.