‘Our pro bono practice enables us to make a particularly meaningful contribution to society’, says Robert van Galen, partner and chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee. ‘I think it is important that we help to further the rule of law by taking on human rights cases. Moreover, we want to support important issues and organisations, like sustainability and the cultural sector, by lending our expertise to persons and organisations that do not have sufficient funding to obtain adequate services otherwise. I am convinced that putting our professional skills and talents to use for the benefit of society makes us better lawyers.’
Our lawyers are encouraged to spend time on pro bono matters. Until last year we did not have a clear policy on our pro bono work and lawyers could bring in their own pro bono matters. This made it difficult to define what we stood for as a firm. In order to give more focus to our pro bono work, we set up a Pro Bono Committee last year. The committee’s job is to professionalise, expand and promote our pro bono practice both internally and outside the firm. The Pro Bono Committee developed a new pro bono policy, defined eligibility criteria for pro bono assistance and streamlined the pro bono procedure from intake to closing. Furthermore, the Board decided to place pro bono cases on equal footing with billable matters, an important step in elevating our pro bono practice.
Our pro bono focus
NautaDutilh’s pro bono practice focuses on three specific areas:
A: Protection of human rights, including issues and organisations related to access to justice and the rule of law, access to education, and equality and inclusion. One example of a recent human rights pro bono case in which we were involved is the representation before the Dutch Supreme Court of 23 IS women and their 56 children held in detention camps in northern Syria (see Robert van Galen’s case on next page).
B: Sustainability and the environment, including issues and organisations related to climate change, biodiversity and the circular economy. In addition to the Urgenda climate case (see the chapter on Our clients and the interview with Freerk Vermeulen), NautaDutilh has helped several NGOs working on sustainability issues develop or revise their articles of association or terms and conditions.
C: Support for cultural activities and the cultural sector. To give just a few examples, NautaDutilh supports cultural institutions such as the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Vereniging Rembrandt, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Rotterdam International Film Festival and the String Quartet Biennale on a pro bono basis.
Pro bono partnerships
NautaDutilh is a founding member of Pro Bono Connect, the first public interest clearing house in the Netherlands. The cases referred to us by Pro Bono Connect represented about 35% of our pro bono hours in 2020. Last year, we joined TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono programme. Our Luxembourg office works with the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce and the House of Entrepreneurship to support their #ReAct program, which provides legal advice to local businesses impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.
Our involvement, which targets local SMEs, made us realise that during these troubled times, an additional dose of solidarity can be of great help and is much appreciated. Our Brussels office is associated with a similar initiative launched by AVOCATS.BE, the Belgian Bar Association. NautaDutilh Brussels also supports two Belgian start-ups participating in the accelerator programme of Impact Hub Amsterdam.
Pro bono versus commercial work
The most noteworthy pro bono cases on which we worked in the past two years are the Urgenda climate case and the case involving the children of Dutch IS fighters in Syria, both of which ended up before the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. These cases had an impact not only on society but also on our firm.
They increased awareness of our duty, as a law firm, to ensure access to justice and defend the rule of law. They made our people proud to be part of a law firm committed to investing in noncommercial - and political sensitive - cases. At the same time, the political context of these cases fueled internal discussion about green washing and the potential impact they could have on our ‘regular’ clients.
While we endeavour to distinguish our pro bono work from our commercial practice, we realise it is sometimes a fine balance. Nonetheless, we believe this is part of the role we wish to play in society and that it is important to continue the discussion and be transparent about it.