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June 16, 2010 6:03 PM

White & Case Globalizes Pro Bono

Posted by Michael D. Goldhaber

Globalization has seeped into most every realm of human endeavor, starting with the seven deadly sins, and moving up from there. On the positive side of the ledger, White & Case this week announced the formation of a global pro bono group. Its innovation lies less in the spread of U.S.-style public interest law (a trend that has firmly taken root), than in the introduction of global management structures.

"As pro bono grows globally, it presents new management challenges," says Ed Rekosh, executive director of the Public Interest law Institute, which promotes public interest advocacy around the world. "This is an important step forward, which other firms might emulate."

White & Case will organize its new practice into three subgroups, which will broadly cover human rights disputes, rule-of-law advice (leveraging the firm's deep ties to sovereigns), and corporate counsel to nonprofits.

"We are trying to make all of our important practices global, and pro bono is at the heart of our firm," says managing partner Hugh Verrier. "We had a sense that firmwide we were doing a lot of good things but not doing them together," adds Ian Forrester, the eminent Brussels antitrust barrister who will lead the new group.

However uncoordinated, White & Case's 2009 pro bono docket had plenty of global highlights. The firm funded microfinance initiatives from Armenia to Thailand; advised Polish humanitarians on water management in Sudan; trained Tanzanian civil servants and Kenyan magistrates; counseled Bhutan on financial regulation; structured the first debt-for-nature swap in Indonesia; assisted Turkish victims of domestic violence; and surveyed the right to conscientious objection by health care professionals in Europe.

White & Case also recently published its first Social Responsibility Review, and expanded its sponsorship of the Jessup International Law Moot Court competition.

"If we provide leadership, others will follow," says Verrier, "and in pro bono that's a great thing."

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Although I applaud their seemingly good intentions and efforts to help communities, I cannot help feeling that this is more a PR stunt since it is no secret that being genuine about doing "good" and helping others starts at home. What about all those associates who were silently laid off by the firm a while ago and who are still unemployed? I find it appalling that the firm has enough money to expand their sponsorship of moot court competitions (which are aimed at recruiting law school students), yet cares very little about their own current employees (including associates). It just does not make any sense.

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