Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

The Pro Bono Committee of the Bar Association of the City of Buenos Aires met with Rocío Balestrai and Jorge Garnierii, Pro Bono Coordinators at Bruchou, Fernández Madero & Lombardiiii (BFM&L), who shared their experiences of doing pro bono work in New York in two leading law firms: Shearman & Sterlingiv and White & Casevvi and the impact of such an experience to promote and develop Pro Bono in Argentina.

 

Both Jorge and Rocío have several things in common. Both are proud of being part of the law firm Bruchou, Fernández Madero & Lombardi for over a decade. Their practice areas also are far from typical for pro bono attorneys.   While Balestra has a long and renowned career in banking, capital markets and exchange control fields, Garnier is a senior lawyer recognized for his expertise in corporate, M&A and antitrust law. However, both have always had a strong inclination to participate in matters of public interest and to be agents of social change.

The two lawyers had a transcendent experience that left an indelible mark: being involved in pro bono work in New York at two leading law firms - Shearman & Sterling and White & Case. On her return to Argentina, Ms. Balestra strongly promoted the signing of the Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas by the Bruchou law firm and the development and implementation of pro bono policies. Garnier returned with renewed energy to continue developing and improving the pro bono practice at Bruchou. Both agree that the Pro Bono Committee of the Bar Association of the City of Buenos Aires has had a key role in helping develop pro bono practice at their law firm, serving as the institution which refer them pro bono cases and offering an opportunity for exchange and collaboration between pro bono coordinators of important law firms in Argentina.

 

Pro Bono Committee of the Bar Association of the City of Buenos Aires (CPB): What motivated you to participate in pro bono projects at Shearman & Sterling and White & Case, respectively?

Balestra: I decided to work on pro bono cases at Shearman and Sterling for two reasons. First, I am aware that, as a lawyer, I have the duty and the opportunity to fill the gaps of justice by providing legal services. By improving access to justice by disadvantaged litigants, and working on projects and programs that better address the legal needs of our society, you are working to have a more just world. Second, I was eager to learn how pro bono work is structured in a leading law firm like Shearman & Sterling in New York. I thought that I could learn standards and innovative pro bono practices to apply in Argentina. Fortunately, the partner Antonia Stolper (http://www.shearman.com/astolper, New York - Capital Markets), a member of the Pro Bono Committee of S & S, encouraged me to fulfill my wish to work on pro bono cases.

Garnier: Social issues have always interested me and I have a strong vocation for them. Therefore, there was no need to insist and, responding to the specific need for Spanish speaking lawyers, I offered to help. That was the start of integrating with other teams and working on a great variety of pro bono matters that enabled me to gain an enriching experience.

 

CPB: How was the experience of working on pro bono matters in leading law firms in New York?

Balestra: It was a unique experience that changed me in every way. It convinced me of the urgent need to replicate the pro bono structure in Argentina, adapting it to the idiosyncrasies of our country and to the Argentine law firms’ operations. I understood the role of the legal profession as agents of social change.

Garnier: The pro bono team at White & Case NYC is like a “steamroller”. The energy, dedication, and passion that imbue anyone who has the possibility to do pro bono work at the law firm is really something that differentiates it from its peers and positions it as one of the market leaders in this discipline as well. That energy was contagious, and I did not hesitate to join in the different pro bono projects in which I was invited to participate.

 

CPB: Which pro bono cases did you participate in?

Balestra: I worked in both international pro bono cases as well as in U.S. law cases. One of the international pro bono cases was a bill promoted by Lawyers Without Borders (LWOB), an international NGO with offices in Canada, United States and United Kingdom. LWOB has special consultative status at the United Nations and is accredited as a civil society organization by the Organization of American States. I assisted LWOB with its first publication about the rule of law in Cuba.

The U.S. pro bono case consisted on the provision of legal advice in the context of a political asylum case due to persecution based on gender.

Garnier: I worked on diverse and interesting topics involving civil and political rights, juvenile violence, international asylum, foundations, micro-finance, among others. This experience of pro bono work in New York allowed me to learn the social realities of a city that, even with the entire splendor which undoubtedly surrounds and captivates us, also hides the structural and social problems typical of large cities (discrimination, violence, illegal work, etc.).

 

CPB: What things caught your attention while working on pro bono cases in New York?

Balestra: I was very impressed by the professionalism of lawyers who work on pro bono matters, who ensure that pro bono clients receive the same quality of legal assistance as paying clients. Moreover, I was impressed by how the pro bono culture is rooted in all lawyers, who know that it is their duty and social responsibility to connect with their community through pro bono practice.

Garnier: The way of dealing with pro bono work begins from a different starting point. Once the need of a pro bono client is identified, the area of law that you practice does not matter; at all times you can study and learn. The important thing is the interest to get involved, using common sense and being lawyers in its purest sense. The American’s vision about pro bono work makes a difference with ours in the sense that, as pioneers in the field, they have been able to attract large law firms and companies and encourage them to take a chance on pro bono legal work as an undeniable and necessary reality in today’s professional law practice. In order to illustrate what I mentioned above, I use the example of White &Case, which in 2012 involved more than 50% of its associates worldwide in pro bono work (a total of approximately 1250 associates who spent approximately 88,000 hours providing pro bono legal services).

 

CPB: What would be your advice for lawyers who are interested in participating in pro bono cases?

Balestra: I strongly recommend that they start contacting those who are doing pro bono work and take a practical approach. There are many new opportunities for corporate lawyers beyond the field of litigation that allow them to use their legal knowledge and skills. I would suggest that they do not hesitate to leave their specific areas of practice, because the legal skills are transferable and our legal knowledge can be used to navigate a number of issues that can have a major positive impact in our community. Pro bono cases directly affect people's lives in a meaningful and lasting way. Over time, it can bring about a lot of improvements, and this will also help to strengthen access to justice in Argentina.

Garnier: The door is open, do not let the opportunity pass by and just enter!

 


 

i Senior Associate at BFM&L. http://www.bfmyl.com/es/profesionales/a/balestra.

ii Senior Associate at BFM&L. http://www.bfmyl.com/es/profesionales/a/garnier.

iii BFM&L was founded in 1990 and is today a leading law firm in Argentina. It is a full-service firm of international repute and an undisputed market leader, and provide complex, value-added legal advice to leading companies and financial institutions. It also assists its clients regarding the legal aspects of their overseas investments directly and through its long-term relationships with prestigious law firms throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. Additionally, it is a member of AFFINITAS, a Latin American alliance of law firms with associate firms in Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru; and TAXAND, present in almost 50 countries and with more than 2000 tax experts (TAXAND provides high quality integrated tax advice worldwide).

iv Shearman & Sterling (New York Office) has been advising many of the world's leading corporations and financial institutions, governments and governmental organizations for more than 135 years. Its global footprint consists of offices in many of the major commercial centers around the world and includes approximately 850 lawyers from some 80 countries, speaking more than 60 languages.

v White & Case is a leading law firm with offices in several countries around the world and its staff consists of approximately 2,500 lawyers. Its lawyers have worked on a wide range of pro bono matters for more than a century, and its pro bono practice is focused on 3 areas: (i) Providing access to justice; (ii) Promoting good sovereign governance and the rule of law; and (iii) Supporting non-governmental organizations with a social or environmental mission.

vi BFM&L, S&S and W&C have signed the Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas.

vii The Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas has been signed by more than 500 law firms, corporate legal departments, law schools, bar associations, NGOs and prominent lawyers. The Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas provides a definition of pro bono and proposes a rule that lawyers can follow in fulfilling their ethical obligation to do pro bono work on behalf of the poor. The Declaration is the result of the initiatives that are being developed in Latin America since 2001 and is the first fruit of the collaboration between private lawyers in the Americas to articulate the social responsibility of an attorney. Please click here to see the text of the Declaration. Please click here to see the complete list of law firms that have signed the Declaration.