Pro bono work and corporate social responsibility: brilliant initiatives and serious business

Trainee solicitors at Mayer Brown offer insights into supporting less privileged communities, developing their professional careers and achieving a sense of personal fulfilment.

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What does a law firm really mean when it highlights its community service and pro bono work to future trainees? And how can you tell lip service from real service? With many organisations – not just law firms – now acutely aware of the emphasis younger people place on corporate and social responsibility (CSR), environmental and not-for-profit initiatives, it’s worth researching who is delivering on paper promises.

Two trainee solicitors at Mayer Brown – Niki Mehta and Georgia Stylianou – share their experience of pro bono and CSR work during their vacation schemes and training contracts.

Giving back

Besides exciting global client work, a commitment to pro bono projects and participation in community service define the culture at Mayer Brown. Niki and Georgia were both drawn to the firm for this reason.

‘It was very important for me to join a firm that understood the importance of giving back,’ says Niki, who started her training contract in February 2021. Georgia, who joined the firm in September 2021, was initially drawn to Mayer Brown because of its international focus and the high-quality training she knew she would receive. She factored its pro bono schemes into her decision to join the firm because these were important to her values.

New ideas, interests and impact

Despite their relative inexperience at the firm, Georgia and Niki have already found ways to contribute to causes that align with personal as well as professional interests and been given opportunities to explore others. Niki explains, ‘The CSR programme consists of five focus areas, and we have a dedicated Head of Pro Bono and CSR, who ensures everyone in the firm is aware of all available opportunities and how to participate in any programme.’

Broadly, the areas are defined as:

  • charitable giving
  • community service
  • diversity and inclusion
  • pro bono
  • sustainability.

‘I am on the committee for the Fusion network, which recently put on an arts and music event in celebration of Black History Month,’ says Niki. She assisted on a pro bono project for the Alzheimer’s Society when she was on her Tax rotation and has taken part in staff sports events raising money for charities.

Georgia highlights the time when the firm raised money for charity by participating in a fundraising cycle challenge from Paris to London, including the London office’s managing partner. ‘Employees at the firm are encouraged to donate money to a charity of their choice through the salary sacrifice programme, which is a tax-efficient way to give,’ explains Georgia. She also lists Kids in Need of Defence UK (KIND UK), which focuses on children’s immigration and asylum law, and NSPCC work as examples of pro bono programmes she has been involved in.

Trainees are expected to undertake at least 20 hours of pro bono work every year, says Georgia, though in reality the firm’s culture encourages much more involvement. Bringing new ideas and programmes to the table, provided they balance CSR commitments with their workload, is considered a positive.

Hands-on experience

With just 15 trainees taken on each year, Mayer Brown has a reputation for the close contact associates and partners offer graduate starters. While initially trainees might feel pushed out of their comfort zone, fostering a hands-on approach gives trainees responsibility for tasks that more senior lawyers might do in other firms and elevates their training. It’s also clear that colleagues at all levels of seniority are committed to the firm’s CSR programmes.

'Even during my vacation scheme, I was encouraged to undertake pro bono work by visiting the Islington Legal Advice Centre to provide advice on a housing dispute. This showed me early on how much the firm values pro bono work,’ says Georgia. ‘It was important for me to know I would be using my expertise and training to help less privileged members of the community and fight for social causes that are important. I also knew that pro bono provides unique opportunities for personal development, effective training and a sense of fulfilment.’

Equally, the fee earners Niki met during her time on the vacation scheme spoke passionately about their involvement in pro bono and corporate social responsibility (CSR) work. ‘It showed me it was truly embedded into the culture of the firm,’ she says. ‘As a large corporate law firm we have access to legal resources that many individuals and organisations do not have access to and we have a real opportunity to drive meaningful impact with those that need help.’

Influencing change and developing skills

Georgia values Mayer Brown’s pro bono and CSR work not just because it enables trainees, giving them leverage and a platform to make a difference to local and global communities. It also provides opportunities to network and develop practical legal skills.

‘Trainees are encouraged to join the steering committees of networks and the Charity of the Year Committee, allowing us to influence the causes and charities Mayer Brown supports,’ she says.

Niki agrees and adds, ‘Being able to make a real impact on members of the community is very rewarding, but also on a professional level taking part in pro bono and CSR work is very beneficial. It offers the chance to develop key legal skills, such as interviewing and advising, and often you are the lead on a pro bono matter, which is great way to build confidence.’

Niki highlights the areas of law she might not ordinarily work in, such as environmental law, and the ways that she has been able to interact with visible and diverse role models. These include associates, partners and clients from ethnic minority and LGBT+ backgrounds at all levels of seniority. ‘It is a great opportunity to meet and work with different colleagues around the firm,’ she says.

Pro bono and CSR work: the facts

Mayer Brown appointed Mehreen Malik as the London Head of Pro Bono and CSR in 2021.

The Law Society defines pro bono work as: legal advice or representation provided free of charge by legal professionals in the public interest. This can be to individuals, charities or community groups who cannot afford to pay for legal help and cannot get legal aid or any other means of funding.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) statements set out the aims of an organisation to be a ‘good’ business, partner, client or practice. CSR initiatives assess how an organisation interacts with, and impacts on, the wider world, communities, environment and sustainability and show how it will strive to improve on past outcomes.

In 2021, lawyers in the Mayer Brown London office collectively undertook over 6,000 hours of pro bono and CSR work. Work is overseen by senior lawyers, making sure that the legal advice and expertise, offered free of charge by Mayer Brown, is of a high quality. Mayer Brown is a signatory to a UK protocol stipulating pro bono legal work must be carried out to the same standards as chargeable work, covering wide-ranging issues including adoption, asylum, environmental and human rights law. Globally, similar commitments are applied whichever office employees work from.

Recent UK awards and recognition that Mayer Brown has received include:

  • 2020 The National Law Journal Pro Bono Hot List. Law firms and lawyers ‘dedicated to making a monumental impact on the lives of those in need and have taken on some of the biggest issues of our time.’
  • 2020 Business Charity Award in the UK for its flagship pro bono project with anti-poverty charity Z2K.

More reading

Visit Mayer Brown’s organisation profile on targetjobs and apply for open training contracts and vacation schemes.

Read more about life as a trainee at Mayer Brown .

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