Pro bono work often unites likeminded people, those who want to make an impact and improve society. Currently in Ecuador, there is an individualistic approach, with lawyers and law firms developing or working on independent projects on various aspects of law. Even though the greatest challenge in Ecuador is the sometimes “inexistence” rule of law and legal certainty, pro bono activities are limited and, in most cases, operate independently like lonely stars.
In general, law firms in Ecuador do not have institutionalized pro bono practices. However, in recent years we have observed momentum to change this. Cases of institutionalized practices are rare and, in general, do not take regulatory work to promote and improve the rule of law. Political instability has discouraged firms from engaging in this type of work while collaboration between the public and private sectors is limited. This makes the prospect of true change seem overwhelming; it is a task that is impossible to tackle alone. We believe collaboration is key to change this status quo.
In Latin America, various basic needs are not being met, despite legislation which guarantees human rights and public policy intended to provide healthcare, education, safety, and access to justice. However, budgetary restrictions, a lack of state capacity, and the gap between regulation and reality mean that many causes fall through the cracks.
In this landscape, legal firms could take the lead as coordinators by identifying needs, finding interested parties, and taking action to make change - one cause at a time.
One such example is a project to consolidate good practices in to incorporated in the discussion of the new Transparency of Public Information Law.
The law is still under discussion within the National Assembly, but projects like this provide important information for decision makers. A pressing need was identified, the people who presented this were asked to think of solutions, and lawyers in Latin America were brought together to offer ideas on improving regulation. Even though a resolution by the General Assembly is still expected this was a way to present vital information to the decision makers.
Law firms must not only continue their efforts to perform pro bono work but also look at this with different eyes – to change the current lonely star model to a new collaborative approach. With this in mind, corporate law firms can promote a change in culture and demonstrate that there is a way to work together to boost participation and contribute to improving the rule of law, transforming lonely shining stars into a galaxy.