12th annual TrustLaw awards celebrate the impact of pro bono

by Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 17 May 2023 10:49 GMT

TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono legal service, celebrated its annual TrustLaw Awards ceremony on 16 May in London.

Now in their twelfth year, the Awards celebrate ground-breaking pro bono projects undertaken by legal teams on behalf of NGOs and social enterprises in the TrustLaw network. They are an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate some of the very best legal pro bono from around the world – pro bono at its most innovative, most collaborative, and most impactful.

TrustLaw members travelled to London from around the world, arriving from countries including Mexico, Nepal and Kenya. The global TrustLaw network now comprises more than 6,000 NGOs and social enterprises who receive free legal assistance from more than 1,000 law firms and corporate counsel members.

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The ceremony was opened by Carolina Henriquez- Schmitz, Director of TrustLaw, who spoke about the pro bono community providing a lifeline to people impacted most by the era of converging crises, “From the climate emergency touching every corner of the planet, and the invasion of Ukraine with profound global implications, to the information crisis and the widening inequality gap. The most vulnerable countries and populations are being disproportionately impacted. Yet, like never before, in response, we are seeing the legal community stepping up to provide life-changing support to individuals and organisations in need.”

She announced that the TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono found that globally, lawyers dedicated an average of 33 hours of their time to pro bono throughout the year, collectively totalling 3.5 million hours of free legal support to charities, non-profits, social enterprises, and individuals in need. Their work has advanced a wide range of issues, from access to justice, sustainability and climate action to human rights, women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and freedom of speech and expression.

The Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, Antonio Zappulla OMRI gave the keynote speech and thanked the network of legal professionals for their commitment to supporting civil society to defend media freedom, advance human rights and foster inclusive economies, “As we see every day, access to free legal expertise can have a powerful effect on an organisation’s ability to deliver positive impact for individuals and communities around the world. We are proud to work with our generous legal partners to provide support where it is needed most, and are delighted to take this opportunity to celebrate their impact.”

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The event featured two fireside chats on topics fundamental to the Foundation’s work. Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, barrister, international human rights lawyer and expert in freedom of expression and open justice at Doughty Street Chambers, spoke to TrustLaw Director Carolina Henriquez-Schmitz about current threats to media freedom and how the law can be used to combat them. Caoilfhionn referenced the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s new report on the weaponisation of the law against journalists, produced in partnership with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, highlighting the need to build greater awareness around how the law is silencing journalism and freedom of expression.

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Steve Trent, CEO of the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), sat down with Yasir Khan, Editor-in-Chief of Context, the Foundation’s digital news platform, to discuss how a human rights lens can help tackle climate change, as well as how pro bono legal assistance can best aid organisations fighting to protect people and the planet. Capturing the audience’s attention, he spoke of the wealthy’s “addiction to carbon” and its effect on vulnerable populations around the world. In 2019, 23.9 million people were displaced by climate-related disasters – almost three times more than those fleeing conflict and violence. Through TrustLaw, EJF received legal support to strengthen its advocacy work, calling for international legal frameworks for climate refugees. Looking to the audience, Steve said, “We need you; we need your legal minds” to fight the climate crisis.

2023 TrustLaw Award winners

With projects covering a multitude of sectors across the world, this year’s winners demonstrate the global scale of the TrustLaw service and its role in spreading pro bono.

The winners in the seven award categories are:

Collaboration Award: Researching best practices on climate change regulations in South America
Sustentabilidad sin Fronteras and Baker & McKenzie LLP, Eversheds Sutherland LLP, Ferrere Abogados, Muñoz Tamayo y Asociados, Hogan Lovells International LLP, Allende & Brea, Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr. e Quiroga Advogados

While most Latin American and the Caribbean countries have taken steps to address climate change, the region’s emissions are steadily growing. Sustentabilidad Sin Fronteras (SSF) is an Argentine foundation that works to fight climate change through advocacy, awareness, mitigation and adaptation. TrustLaw connected them to expert legal teams, who conducted research to identify, analyse and compare the climatic laws and regulations in the region to assess how they could be improved. SSF presented the report in the Argentine National Congress, and have discussed its findings with key members of government. Read here.

Impact Award: Safeguarding the rights of pretrial detainees in India

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and K&L Gates LLP, Allen & Overy LLP, Nyoh Law Chambers, Shearman & Sterling LLP, Sibtain Akhtar Bokhari

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) sought support from TrustLaw to produce research on the criminal laws and provisions safeguarding the rights of pre-trial detainees across the Commonwealth member states. The report aimed at collating all such safeguards currently available across the 54 member states of the Commonwealth, and was used by CHRI to support efforts to advocate for collective action to reduce the use of pretrial detention in commonwealth countries. The campaign led to release of over 24,000 prisoners. Read here.

Powered by Pro Bono Award: Promoting the right to freedom of expression internationally
Blueprint for Free Speech and Ritch, Mueller y Nicolau, S.C 

Despite being one of the first signatories to the ‘Convention Against Corruption’.in 2003, Mexico still does not have a comprehensive national stand-alone law to protect whistleblowers, and instead relies on other national or miscellaneous laws or provisions that protect whistleblowers. Blueprint for Free Speech has been working on the design of one of the first stand-alone comprehensive national whistleblowing laws in Latin America, and needed an understanding of the local legal environment to see how the proposed legislation might sit in the country’s legal framework. Through TrustLaw they were connected to lawyers at Ritch, Mueller y Nicolau. SC, to help them in drafting a model law for Mexico.  Read here

International Law Firm of the Year
The TrustLaw International Law Firm of the Year Award was given to Dechert LLP for providing free legal assistance on almost 40 pro bono projects, in three continents, including a large number of advisory projects and key multi-jurisdictional research.

Regional Law Firm of the Year Award
The TrustLaw Regional Law Firm of the Year Award was presented to Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr - Kieti Law LLP for its pro bono legal assistance on advisory and research projects in Africa.

In-house Legal Team of the Year Award
The TrustLaw In-house Legal Team of the Year Award was presented to Accenture for its pro bono legal assistance on advisory and research projects in Latin America.

TrustLaw Lawyer of the Year Award
Oscar Bjartell, Liz Longster, Timothy Neo and Gail Crawford, Latham & Watkins LLP

The team from Latham & Watkins LLP were chosen as this year’s Lawyer of the Year Award winners by a public vote. They were nominated for their work with The Vavengers, a UK organisation that supports women affected by Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and other forms of Violence Against Women and Girls.

For more details about the winners, nominees and TrustLaw Awards, please visit www.trust.org/trustlaw/awards/2023

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