Law firm’s vital pro bono commitment
Eithne Lynch says A&L Goodbody’s pro bono practice is unique in that it seeks to engage with all lawyers across each of the firm’s offices.
Name: Eithne Lynch
Occupation: Pro Bono Associate, A&L Goodbody
Background: The first full-time Pro Bono Associate by the firm, and the first of its kind by an Irish legal practice. The position will entail overseeing and building upon the firm’s current pro bono programmes and initiatives.
A&L Goodbody’s decision to hire a senior legal professional exclusively to manage its pro bono programme is part of the firm’s ambition to see its lawyers deliver an average of 25 pro bono hours per lawyer per year by 2021.
Currently the firm asks each lawyer to deliver 10 hours per year, and creating this new position will enable it to expand the pro bono service further.
“I am delighted to be part of a firm where pro bono is truly part of the culture,” Eithne Lynch explains. “We as lawyers have a professional responsibility to use our skills to benefit those who cannot easily access the justice system, and it is important that law firms incorporate this duty into their legal practice.”
She joins A&L Goodbody from PILA, the Public Interest Law Alliance, where, as a legal officer, she managed the pro bono referral scheme, connecting social justice organisations with legal expertise. In addition, she developed pro bono clinics, law reform working groups, and facilitated strategic litigation. Ms Lynch also spent a number of years developing rule of law projects in Southern Africa. A qualified solicitor, she trained with a top tier commercial law firm and practised for a number of years post qualification.
“A&L Goodbody’s pro bono practice is at the centre of our community involvement. We believe we make the most impact by using our skills, knowledge, and training to deliver what is most needed in the community. In many ways the firm’s pro bono practice is unique, drawing on the skills of all our lawyers to tackle unmet legal need in our community. We do this in a structured way and have developed a pro bono policy to guide our practice.”
Much of the pro bono service is legal work for charities, social enterprises, and clients who have legal needs in areas such as property, employment, corporate, and data protection.
“A significant portion of our work is also for disadvantaged individuals who do not have the financial resources to pay for legal advice or where civil legal aid is not available to the person. Such work is usually within the context of an initiative in which we collaborate with an organisation and receive specialised training.”
ALG works in partnership with domestic and international ‘clearing houses,’ including the Public Interest Law Alliance, Business in the Community, and Thomson Reuter Trustlaw Foundation. So far in 2018, ALG lawyers have delivered over 4,500 pro bono hours working on 160 legal cases.
In early 2013, the firm embarked on a collaborative project, the first of its kind, with the Irish Refugee’s Independent Law Centre to provide a unique pro bono service for people claiming refugee status in Ireland.
“Our lawyers support the individual to complete their asylum questionnaire and provide written legal submissions in support of the application. This practice area has grown to include family reunification applications also, enabling a person who has been granted refugee status to apply to have their family join them here in Ireland.”
Early this year ALG partnered with Mercy Law Resource Centre and Focus Ireland to provide free legal advice and representation to persons who are homeless or at risk of becoming so.
“Where necessary the person is provided with ongoing legal support to address their housing needs. Similar to our asylum project, our lawyers undermost took comprehensive training to upskill in this area of the law, it being different to their day-to-day practice.”
Since 2013, the firm’s pro bono practice has grown by 25%.
“Our pro bono practice is unique in that we look to engage with all our lawyers across each of the firm’s offices. I am supported by Eamonn Conlon, Partner for Responsible Business, and Sinead Smith, Corporate Responsibility Manager, and together as a team we drive engagement across the firm and ensure that our lawyers are aware of opportunities to get involved. Research has shown for a pro bono practice to become fully integrated into the fabric of a law firm, it needs to be structured, diverse, meaningful, and impactful.
“This requires resources and my appointment illustrates the commitment of the firm to achieve this.” Meeting community partners provides another rewarding aspect of her role: “I continue to be inspired by their work to address the pressing social issues of our time. This position provides me with an opportunity to identify where the law can add value and am lucky to work in a firm with some of the brightest legal minds in the country.”
Eithne Lynch underlines the fact that Irish lawyers have a strong tradition of using their legal skills to support those who could not otherwise access the justice system: “It is a wonderful quality in the profession and sometimes overlooked. However, it is my hope that other legal practices will follow our lead and put in place structures to support the growth and development of pro bono as a practice area. For the justice system to work effectively people need and have a right to access legal advice and representation.”
Pro bono is not a replacement for a fully functioning State civil legal aid system, she believes, but it can and does provide invaluable assistance to the vulnerable and marginalised. She dates her passion for social justice back to her university days and involvement with the Free Legal Advice Centres.
“As a trainee lawyer and after qualifying, every Monday evening I attended the free legal clinic in the Citizen Information Centre in Ringsend. It opened my eyes to the legal need in our community and how my skills could help people to navigate the legal system. Through the clinic I witnessed how with some legal direction people can become empowered to use the law to advocate for their legal rights,” she added.
Between 2011 and 2013, she worked with Tanzanian Women Lawyers Association in Dar es Salaam, a non-profit organisation campaigning for equal rights for women and children through the provision of free advocacy services and education programmes. This was followed by a period working in Malawi providing technical legal assistance to lawyers within the Ministry of Justice.
“For the rule of law to be fully effective, the legal system must be fully accessible by the people living in that society. My time in Southern Africa deepened my understanding of what is meant by this and the important function lawyers play in ensuring this occurs in practice.”
While her workload is often taxing, Eithne Lynch has little hesitation in extolling the virtues of her chosen legal path: “The work provides immense personal satisfaction. My late father, who was a great influence in my life, shared some wisdom with me: ‘You have not lived a perfect day, even though you have earned your money, unless you have done something for someone who can never repay you.’ To me this is the essence of humanity. Pro bono work involves us not in monetary gain but rather to share our legal skills with those who cannot afford it.”
This article was published in the Irish Examiner 2 November 2018