Pro bono has become a key area for clients when assessing which law firms they work with, according to Coca Cola’s Europacific Partners general counsel and company secretary.
Speaking at the Commercial Litigation Forum’s pro bono event at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday, Wardle explained that ESG-related matters were the “flavour of the month” for general counsel of large companies and that pro bono work was core to that as it has a “huge social benefit”.
Wardle added that pro bono is something the company is focused on internally, but it is also “something we’re looking for our suppliers to do”.
In a panel review, Wardle said she “gives points” for pro bono work as it is something she values as a GC. She’s looking for lawyers with a “balanced view of the world who contribute more than just a good job”.
As associate salaries soar and billable targets remain high, there is a risk that pro bono work could take a backseat. Earlier in June, the Washington D.C.-based Pro Bono Institute found that the number of pro bono hours across the industry fell by a “significant” amount in 2021.
In response to juggling both client and pro bono work, Wardle said: “I think lawyers need to think carefully about how much work is being piled on. I’m a great believer in that you cannot work more than 10 hours a day on a regular basis and still be good at what you do.”
She added that it is crucial to “give life meaning” and to “let lawyers do more than just slave over files”.
Figures from Law.com International’s pro bono survey in November 2021 found that Arnold & Porter, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Hogan Lovells were some of the best firms for pro bono work in the U.K.
Speaking to Law.com International at the same event Justice Sara Cockerill, head of commercial courts, echoed it was important for the legal industry to pay more attention to pro bono particularly in light of the stresses from the pandemic on resources and the strains on legal relationships.
“We’re only too aware there are a huge number of people who have no choice but to be involved in litigation but don’t have access to the resources”, she added.
As well as amplified pro bono efforts, Justice Cockerill is keen to see further promotion of diversity, particularly targeted at the university stage.
“It is vitally important that we promote diversity and keep thinking about it and new ways to do it”, she said.
It boils down to there not being an easy route to find relevant information about entering the profession, she explained, noting the onus is on the industry to make sure there is a clearer path.
The event marked the formal launch of a directory of service providers for litigators for which the proceeds are directed to the National Pro Bono Centre. The event saw 500 legal professionals gather, with attendees including gold medal-winning Paralympian Emma Wiggs.