Russia’s Pro Bono Revolution

Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sarra.

Until a few years ago, pro bono was a largely unfamiliar concept in Russia.  According to an article in The Moscow Times, Russia’s recent pro bono revolution comes at an opportune time when Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are in dire need of legal support:

The legal environment for NGOs has become more challenging.  New registration requirements and complex tax regulations have  added a heavy burden to NGO operations, and securing access to affordable legal support is now critical to strengthening civil society.  It is here that both international and local firms can have the greatest impact.

Over the past few years, pro bono lawyers from Clifford Chance and other Russia-based law firms have partnered with United Way of Russia and the Global Network for Public Interest Law (PILnet) to deliver a series of legal seminars to Russian NGOs.  “In our experience, the benefit is not only to the individual or organization on the receiving end of the support,” said Clifford Chance Pro Bono and Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Tatiana Pesotskaya. “Our lawyers frequently cite the sense of personal pride that comes from their pro bono engagements and the value of the long-term relationships it builds with those they work with on these types of initiatives.”  Already, 714 participants from 438 NGOs have benefitted from the pro bono legal workshops.

Shrewdly, Russia isn’t relying exclusively on pro bono to meet the legal needs of its most indigent and vulnerable people.  Over the past five years, pilot legal aid bureaus and government-funded civil legal aid schemes have cropped up in a number of localities. And, a bill submitted to the Duma earlier this summer sets forth a model for the development of a Russia-wide free legal aid system, with a distinct role for the private bar.

Kudos from The PBEye to Russia’s legal community for its commitment to institutionalizing pro bono and enhancing access to justice.

Be sure to drop us a comment if you’re in the know about promising pro bono rumblings abroad.