I have always had a passion for pro bono, and the scale of DLA Piper's pro bono practice was one of the key things that attracted me to the firm. I was keen to be involved in pro bono work from day one, and so I volunteered for a number of projects during my first seat in Financial Markets.
Every lawyer at DLA Piper is actively encouraged to build their own pro bono practice, which means they are supported by the pro bono team to pursue pro bono opportunities that they feel passionate about, alongside their commercial work. I loved the work I was doing, and a fellow trainee encouraged me to apply for the pro bono seat. DLA Piper are the only firm to offer a full six month rotation in pro bono, and although I am only two months in to my seat, I've already found myself immersed in an array of new and exciting areas of law, ranging from human rights and the illegal wildlife trade, to welfare and benefits and discrimination in the workplace.
In light of the severe cuts to legal aid, DLA Piper provides free legal advice and representation to disadvantaged members of the local community through an expanding network of specialised, supervised, end-to-end legal clinics. One such clinic is run in partnership with the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS). The clinic provides support and representation to the families of children with hearing impairments who have had their claims for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) refused by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and who, without the clinic, would have to face the stress and anxiety associated with a tribunal hearing alone, or worse, wouldn't have the confidence to appeal a wrong decision at all. DLA Piper lawyers, trained by NDCS case workers, have taken on over 50 cases to date, with a success rate of over 90 per cent.
I recently worked on the case of a young boy named Jack. Jack was six years old when I took on his case, and he suffers from Usher Syndrome Type 1, a severe genetic condition which affects hearing, vision and balance. He has profound hearing loss, deteriorating vision and vestibular dysfunction. In October 2016, the DWP informed Jack and his family that he was no longer eligible for DLA.
Taking on a case as a trainee is a huge responsibility, but is also a valuable opportunity to develop a range of important legal skills. I worked closely with Jack's mother to understand the severity of his condition and its impact on his day-to-day life. I used this, and other evidence obtained from Jack's family, school and audiologists, to write a complaint letter to the DWP, asking them to revise their decision. When the DWP failed to respond, I prepared a tribunal submission which highlighted the additional attention and supervision which Jack required as a result of his condition, and I explained why he was properly entitled to DLA. The first hearing was adjourned, but the tribunal judge overturned the DWP's decision at the second hearing, and reinstated Jack's DLA.
Hearing from a family after a successful appeal certainly makes your day, if not your week. It's an amazing feeling to know that, because of your effort, a vulnerable child will now receive the money to help them lead a full, active and independent life.
DLA Piper's pro bono work not only furthers local relationships with the communities which the firm serves, but also supports the advancement of human rights on a global scale. The firm has numerous global partnerships with leading human rights charities, and has worked alongside them to deliver lasting change to vulnerable children. Examples of projects include reviewing national legislation on birth registration across 23 different jurisdictions to ensure every child has access to this fundamental right, and providing in-country assistance to the Government of Bangladesh to put the provisions of the Children Act 2013 into practice, by developing 'rules' and standard operating procedures for police, probation officers, social workers, judges and lawyers. DLA Piper is at the forefront of the effort to address some of the most pressing and acute human rights issues in the world and it is no exaggeration to say that because of the work that it does, the world is gradually becoming a safer place for vulnerable individuals, both locally and internationally.
The pro bono practice sits under the umbrella of Responsible Business, alongside the firm's community initiatives. Break into Law is DLA Piper's flagship global community initiative, and is an award winning programme focused on removing barriers within the legal profession for talented, underrepresented young people. In the UK, DLA Piper runs a work experience programme which enables young people to gain first-hand experience of professional office environments, build their employability skills and provides them with mentors who can support them.
DLA Piper's pro bono practice continues to inspire me. I feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to work alongside the pro bono team, who are all experts in their field, and also be in a position where I'm able to practise, develop and apply my legal skills in a way that's impactful, and makes a real difference to people who need our help.
If you would like to find out more about the firm's UK pro bono projects, please see the firm's dedicated website or contact Nicolas Patrick, (Partner, Responsible Business), Amy Heading, (Pro Bono Director, UK & Nordic) or Sta? Ku?mierkiewicz, (UK Pro Bono Associate).