Challenge

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to stimulate action in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet. There are 17 SDGs, with 169 associated targets, which together make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 2030 Agenda contains, for the first time, a goal of peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16). This goal includes:

  • promoting the rule of law at national and international levels
  • ensuring equal access to justice for all
  • developing effective, accountable and transparent institutions, and
  • broadening the participation of developing countries in global governance.

We believe that achieving the aims of SDG 16 is necessary for achieving all the SDGs. Peace is essential for development, while access to justice and economic development usually brings peace. Achieving SDG 16 will therefore improve the lives of the world’s most disenfranchised people.

Action

As a leading global business law firm, we are uniquely positioned to make a significant contribution to SDG 16.

To promote equal access to justice, we have created clinics around the world to allow our lawyers to give their time for free (pro bono). This gives people in need access to legal advice, regardless of their ability to pay.

The specific issues people face and our response to them vary by location. In the UK, we have 15 clinics across the country, to help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. We provide legal assistance and representation in areas such as unlawful detention, citizenship and welfare benefits. We also deliver legal education programmes, to empower people to help themselves.

We work with charities and governments to promote the rule of law and improve access to justice around the world. Examples of our work include drafting legislation on child rights in Bangladesh (see below), training government lawyers in developing countries to negotiate commercial contracts and bringing cases before national and international courts and treaty bodies. We also help low-income countries to take part in international forums, including the UN climate change negotiations.

Impact

Over the past five years, our lawyers have promoted access to justice around the world by undertaking more than one million hours of pro bono work, with a notional value in excess of £250 million.

Children are uniquely vulnerable, so child rights are a focus area for our pro bono practice. For example, we helped UNICEF to work with the Government of Bangladesh, to align the country’s Children’s Act to international human rights standards. Through this project, we worked with local authorities to help transform the standards of care and protection for children who come into contact or conflict with the law. With over 65 million children in Bangladesh, including 1 million homeless children, the impact of this work is enormous.

Fostering the rule of law also benefits our clients, who need a rules-based environment to conduct business and promote growth. Many clients share our values and pro bono ethic and are keen to volunteer their skills for the public good. We collaborate with our commercial clients on many of our pro bono projects and support their pro bono endeavours.

Pro bono work also brings benefits to our lawyers. It enhances the skills of young lawyers, boosts engagement and retention, and helps build relationships in our local communities. It is also a competitive advantage for us, helping to attract young lawyers to the firm.

In summary, our pro bono programme demonstrates that the law is not just a tool for the privileged. The law can improve lives, reduce poverty and increase stability through economic growth.

Key lesson

Law is at the heart of many human interactions, whether that is between private clients, corporations, charitable organisations or the government. The legal profession is, therefore, one of public service. By emphasising the broader purpose of the legal profession and using our skills for the public good, we can demonstrate our value to society. This positive impact helps to guarantee our role in the community.