Coca-Cola, GSK, ITV among UK GCs embracing pro bono pledge to enhance access to justice

In-House Pro Bono Pledge seeks to increase corporate counsel involvement in pro bono activities over next three years

Leading GCs in the UK have already committed to the pledge Shutterstock

UK general counsel at companies including Coca-Cola, GSK, ITV, Ocado and Goldman Sachs are among corporate counsel who have signed up to the UK In-House Pro Bono Pledge, signalling a significant step towards integrating corporate responsibility with environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals through pro bono work.

Spearheaded by the In-House Pro Bono Group, in partnership with the National Pro Bono Centre and City in-house association, the GC100, the initiative aims to significantly increase the involvement of UK-based lawyers in pro bono activities over the next three years.

The pledge outlines ambitious targets, starting with a commitment to encourage 25% of UK-based lawyers to engage in pro bono work in the next 12 months, escalating to 35% the following year and reaching 50% thereafter. Furthermore, signatories are also expected to advocate for transparency among their external law firm advisers regarding their pro bono efforts.

The pledge “acknowledges the critical role of legal pro bono work in benefiting not only individuals and communities in need but also the broader society”, emphasising the signatories’ commitment to leveraging their legal expertise for the greater good, enhancing access to justice for all.

Senior figures from the judiciary and the government welcomed the news. Lady Chief Justice Lady Carr praised the initiative, stating: “Lawyers working in-house in companies nationwide are an integral part of our legal profession.”

She underscored the importance of in-house lawyers in contributing to access to justice, which initiative she warmly welcomed, as did the government’s deputy chief legal adviser, Solicitor General Robert Courts KC MP.

Courts, also chair of the Attorney General’s Pro Bono Committee, said: “Pro bono work benefits both those who receive it and the lawyers that selflessly donate their time to deliver it.”

He called it “a fantastic initiative enabling Britain’s biggest businesses to show corporate and social leadership”.

Simon Gardiner, GC at United Utilities and chair of the GC100, expressed pride in supporting the pledge, emphasising its importance for the legal profession’s future and making the legal system accessible to everyone.

Clare Wardle, GC at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, also voiced strong support: “The value that pro bono work can deliver is well recognised... We encourage all our legal colleagues to do it as it delivers huge benefits to them and the wider world around us.”

This initiative follows last month’s announcement of 2024’s National Pro Bono Week, to be held from 4-8 November. Last year’s commemoration saw more than 60 events across the UK involving an estimated 3,000 people, shining a spotlight on the UK legal sector’s commitment to pro bono initiatives.

Key takeaways from 2023 included the launch of the first guide to pro bono advice in Scotland, the publication by the Law Society of England and Wales of case studies showing the real-life impact of pro bono by solicitors, and the revelation that 49% of barristers undertook pro bono in the past year, among other projects.

The week is chaired by barrister Toby Brown of South Square, who said it remained important for the legal community to come together for Pro Bono Week every November to recognise lawyers who generously volunteered their time, including corporate counsel supporting this initiative.

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