Pro Bono en España

June 2010

Although many Spanish lawyers contribute their counsel to indigent clients free of charge on an individual basis, there has been no formalization of pro bono practice within Spanish firms. This may soon change.  

Two years ago, Javier Carvajal, a partner at Spain’s largest independent law firm, Cuatrecasas Gonçalves, Pereira SLP, attended a series of meetings in New York organized by the City Bar’s Vance Center for International Justice that exposed him to the practice of pro bono as it is institutionalized in U.S. law firms.  “We owe a huge debt to the Vance Center in this regard,” said Carvajal. We are absolute believers in pro bono because we had the chance to go to New York and meet with the Vance Center and become educated.  Others who have not had this same exposure are a little more reluctant to accept the concept.”

Now law firms in Spain, particularly the major firms in Madrid, are recognizing the need to set up formal pro bono programs.  Seven major Madrid law firms are leading this development, and they hope that smaller firms will follow their lead.  “At the initiative of the Vance Center, the main law firms of Spain sat together to decide how to develop internal pro bono programs,” said Carvajal, who emphasized that this is “not a marketing tool,” but rather a sincere attempt to “do the right thing for the right reasons.”  The Madrid Bar Association has supported these efforts by starting a Center for Social Responsibility to support pro bono work, according to Andres Gil, former Vance Center Committee Member and Partner at Davis, Polk & Wardwell LLP.

Developing within the firms a common understanding of the need to provide pro bono services, as well as systems for doing so, is only the first step, according to Carvajal and Gil. “In the longer term, creating and sponsoring clearinghouses that seek out, screen and feed pro bono work to the law firms and lawyers is an important goal,” said Gil. Added Carvajal, “This is a crucial issue. Currently we are obliged to set up the structure ourselves to filter the potential cases.” He said that any such organization should “not be under the umbrella of a particular firm.”

On a May 20th videoconference, Vance Center executives and Committee members in New York drilled down on these issues with their counterparts in Madrid. Joining the meeting from Sao Paulo, Todd Crider of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP set the tone by quoting the old saying that “justice is open to everyone in the same way as the Ritz Hotel.” Christine Spillane of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP discussed developing an organized infrastructure to support attorney involvement. Harlene Katzman of Simpson Thacher focused on management of pro bono programs.  Saralyn Cohen of Shearman & Sterling LLP discussed strategies to build attorney involvement and commitment, and Barbara Mendelson of Morrison & Foerster LLP offered advice on choosing appropriate volunteer opportunities and working with provider organizations. Joan Vermuelen, Executive Director of the Vance Center, described how pro bono in the U.S. became institutionalized in the 70s with the incubation of organizations like New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (where she was executive director) and Volunteers of Legal Service at the New York City Bar. Elise Colomer, Associate Director of the Vance Center, discussed her involvement in helping to establish clearinghouses throughout Latin America and emphasized the effectiveness of this model.

The seven law firms participating from Spain were Garrigues LLC, Uría Menéndez Abogados SLP, Cuatrecasas, Gómez-Acebo & Pombo SLP, Ramón y Cajal, CMS Albiñana & Suárez de Lezo, and Pérez-Llorca.