Wednesday, 17th October 2012 by Clare Bolton

Brazilian firms and companies are considering joining forces to try and counter the significant obstacles each face in developing their pro bono practices. Clare Bolton convened a roundtable of the major players to discuss the critical issues.

Progress nonetheless

It is truly remarkable that a large proportion of the country’s best law firms have made significant progress in developing strong pro bono practices, despite the unfavourable regulatory environment. In São Paulo, a large step forward was taken in 2002 when the local chapter of the OAB passed a resolution permitting pro bono legal advice for organisations such as NGOs while still forbidding representation of individuals. Other complex reporting requirements and other regulations are also in place, but nonetheless, work could properly begin. In other states, other than the tiny north-eastern outpost of Alagoas, doing any pro bono work would cause a firm to fall foul of OAB regulations.

But of course, São Paulo is home to the largest and often best-resourced law firms, and they have risen admirably to the challenge. The first was Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr e Quiroga Advogados, and pro bono coordinator and partner Flavia Regina de Souza Oliveira paid credit to the role of the Instituto Pro Bono (IPB), co-organiser of the roundtable, in fostering the practice of pro bono in Brazil – particularly by assessing potential cases and matching them to firms. “The IPB are the best channel for receiving pro bono cases for all the large firms. The cases we get from them arrive at the firm ready: the client has been assessed and analysed, the documents are there, the initial visits done – it is much easier,” she said. “It also helps with the regulatory aspect too – showing the OAB that the clients come through the IPB justifies our work.”

Machado, Meyer, Sendacz e Opice Advogados is one of a number of firms that make clear distinctions between corporate social responsibility and pro bono proper as part of this shift to the second phase of development. “This confusion [between philanthropy and pro bono] exists because people feel that to do good is to do good,” said partner Adriana Pallis. “At Machado Meyer we make clear this difference, in part to allow us to organise our practice... Pro bono has to be separate [to CSR], with a different type of seriousness and effort – the concept and commitment are important, but to be able to progress you have to have the structure, to know that doing pro bono is more than just ‘a good thing’, a nice thing to do.”

Like others, Pallis also noted the positive benefits for the firm as a whole in doing pro bono – an upside that was clearly described by Carlos Fernando Siqueira Castro of Siqueira Castro Advogados. “I have never seen a client contract or not contract a firm because of its pro bono work, but the internal gain for the firm, a gain of respect and communal pride of being part of something bigger, is real,” he said. “And this does reflect in the numbers, as one of the biggest factors in retaining talent is the pride a lawyer takes in the institution of which he is part. The biggest gain of pro bono is internal, of pride [and] solidarity, to feel part of something bigger even when you are just a small part of the universe.”

Joining forces
Ricardo Veirano of Veirano Advogados joined the dots of the discussion and threw a challenge to the group: “We have a lack of demand – how can we resolve this? There are three people in the IPB to do the case selection and triage for everyone; perhaps it would be a good thing for all of us here, given how much we all rely upon the organisation, to commit to giving a fixed amount to the IPB every year? That’s not going to make a difference in each law firm’s budget, but might make a big difference to the IPB. It is also the most efficient way as it liberates us to focus on what we are good at – lawyering – and they can help us out with the problem of demand. We are an influential group with a great capacity to agitate for and help bring about change – is there a way we can work together?”

The international experience suggests this idea is an important step, explained Todd Crider of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and vice-chair of the Vance Center of the New York City Bar Association. “At the Vance Center we see the state of pro bono around the region, and the lack of cases is a problem in all the countries. One way to respond is creating clearinghouses. In New York it was the same, but today, we have many clearinghouses there, and a law firm like ours provides financial support to many of them,” he said, also pointing to the successful Fundación Pro Bono in Chile, today supported (often financially) by around 30 law firms. “Pro bono offers a different space within the profession, one in which competitors can collaborate.”

The concept of working together was a popular one throughout the discussion, as Machado Meyer’s Pallis shows: “I ask why we – the biggest law firms, well known, with millions of contacts and many important clients – why we cannot put together all that we know about pro bono to work together in a serious way in which we can show our contribution to society.”

(Latin Lawyer 17.10.2012)

(Notícia na Íntegra)