Haringey Law Centre's Disability Benefits Appeals Project, delivered pro bono by volunteers lawyers from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has been shortlisted for a 2017 LawWorks Annual Pro Bono awards, in the 'most effective partnership' category.
The announcement comes at the start of National Pro Bono Week (6-10 November 2017), which celebrates the legal professions' culture of pro bono work - undertaking legal work on a voluntary basis for the public good (pro bono publico, in Latin).
The LawWorks Annual Pro Bono Awards recognise distinctive achievements in pro bono work by individuals and organisations for the benefit of people and communities.
Haringey Law Centre is based in Tottenham and is London's northernmost Law Centre. In early 2016, a significant withdrawal of funding has led it to the brink of closure. Its committed staff members and volunteers, most of them local residents, would not countenance the community losing its Law Centre and stayed on as unpaid volunteers.
A visit in November 2016 from Emma Rehal-Wilde, pro bono manager at Debevoise, proved to be a turning point. Seeing the Law Centre's situation, she immediately suggested that Debevoise help the Law Centre maintain its benefits service going.
After receiving the green light from Debevoise’s partners in February 2017, 19 Debevoise lawyers, from trainee to international counsel and partner - nearly a fifth of the firm's London-based lawyers - stepped up to volunteer with the project. As they do not specialise in social welfare law, they underwent training delivered, again on a pro bono basis, by solicitor Diane Morrison of the neighbouring Hackney Community Law Centre.
Since then, Debevoise lawyers attend the Law Centre's Tottenham office during working hours to interview sick and disabled clients, many of whom do not speak English as their first language. They prepare detailed written submissions to support the clients' tribunal hearing, and then accompany them and represent them at their hearings.
Even after only several months, the project's impact has already been substantial. To date, Debevoise lawyers have undertaken 420 hours of pro bono work, valued at over £215,000. So far they have helped overturn 11 negative benefits entitlement decisions - an 83% success rate – and many more cases are still awaiting hearing.
This project is not intended to replace a full-time welfare benefits service at Haringey Law Centre. Instead, it is meant to highlight the good work that the Law Centre could do, were it to be properly funded again. This is true to the spirit of pro bono, which all practitioners acknowledge to be "an adjunct to legal aid, not its replacement".
We send our congratulations to the Law Centre and to Debevoise, and wish them every success at the award ceremony, to be held in London on 5 December 2017.