Partner Spotlight: TrustLaw Uses the Power of Law to Build a Better World

Derk Norde

Derk is a co-founder at MovingWorlds.org, a global platform connecting people who want to volunteer their expertise with social impact organizations.

Partner Spotlight Series with TrustLaw (A Thomson Reuters Foundation Program)

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MovingWorlds is excited to announce a new partnership with TrustLaw! TrustLaw is legal pro bono service run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The service connects lawyers in more than 170 countries with NGOs and social enterprises that require pro bono legal assistance. They are a rapidly growing community of more than 3,000 members, that includes over 630 law firms and in-house legal teams who bring the expertise of around 100,000 lawyers from around the world to over 2,800 NGOs and social enterprises.

As we’re fascinated by the important work they are doing, we caught up with Carolina Henriquez-Schmitz, who is a Legal Manager at TRF, and we were able to ask her a couple of questions about the TrustLaw program and the impact of volunteering your legal skills for social justice.

What problem(s) are Thomson Reuters Foundation — and the TrustLaw program in particular — trying to solve?

The main goal of the Thomson Reuters Foundation is to drive socio-economic change and the rule of law to create lasting impact worldwide.  The Foundation embodies the spirit of shared value: we do not give grants, instead, we reinvest all our funding to run free services to inform, connect and empower people around the world.

At the Foundation we run four programs of global reach and breadth. Our focus areas span from pro bono legal assistance, investigative journalism and media development, to anti-trafficking, climate change, social innovation and much more. In all we do, we tackle global issues and strive to achieve lasting impact. Check out our video to see these programs in action.

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TrustLaw is our global pro bono legal program, through which we aim to address the growing need for free legal assistance across the world. As challenges to accessing justice increase, we believe lawyers play a critical role in responding to these unmet legal needs. Through TrustLaw, We hope to continue bridging this gap by connecting the best law firms and corporate legal teams around the world with NGOs and social enterprises working to create social and environmental change and serving communities in need.

Can you tell us a bit more about the TrustLaw program and the positive impact it has had so far?

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Our mission is to spread the practice of pro bono counseling worldwide and we support social enterprises and nonprofits that are at the forefront of social change by connecting them with high-quality free legal assistance that enables them to run their operations more effectively, scale business, and expand into new countries. In essence, we help these organizations focus on their mission rather than spending precious, limited resources on legal expertise and we give lawyers the opportunity to use their skills to make a real impact.

In less than six years, TrustLaw has connected more than 2,300 legal teams with high impact NGOs and social entrepreneurs, often making a life-changing difference to the communities we operate in. We have supported grassroots organizations to employ their first staff members, helped vulnerable women access loans to start their first businesses and brought renewable energy lighting to slums. Free legal assistance on these small projects has had a big impact on local communities working to overcome poverty and discrimination.

At a global scale, we have supported legal reform activities to strengthen the rights of the LGBT community, assisted advocacy efforts to combat sex discrimination and sextortion, changed legislation to support victims of violence, produced guides to protect people who experience street harassment and crafted tools to support the prosecution of trafficking offenders.

What are some examples of global pro bono projects?

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Key highlights of this year’s projects include facilitating Bempu Healths patenting of a life- low-cost temperature monitoring bracelet to combat neonatal hypothermia in India, as well as supporting Acid Survivors Trust International’s quest to tackle acid violence and deliver justice for survivors.

TrustLaw also helped produce a research report on criminal defamation laws across 33 countries in the Americas, which has since served as a robust advocacy tool to protect journalists and herald the freedom of expression throughout the region.

Pro bono assistance facilitated by TrustLaw has also enabled advocacy groups to achieve groundbreaking legal reforms. TrustLaw’s cross-border study on rape laws helped the Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center successfully advocate for the reclassification of the crime of “sex with underage prostitutes” into rape, passed into law by the Chinese National People’s Congress in August 2015.

In the US, TrustLaw connected LGBT rights NGO, Equality Illinois and international law firm, Kirkland & Ellis to work towards barring gay conversion therapy for LGBT youth in Illinois. In May 2015 the Youth Mental Health Protection Act was passed, banning the practice of conversion therapy on minors in the State of Illinois.

What do pro bono lawyers working with TrustLaw get out of it?

Working on pro bono projects opens up a large range of benefits for lawyers – first and foremost they can use their skill to give back to society. They get involved on projects for organizations which are at the forefront of social change and, by providing their legal expertise for free, they enable the organization to free up its often limited resources to focus on working towards its social mission.

Working on pro bono is also a great opportunity for lawyers to expand their knowledge base and improve their legal skills, whether that be through researching areas they haven’t worked in before or liaising with clients they wouldn’t ordinarily deal with. It can also provide a great networking opportunity whereby lawyers can work together with other teams in their firm and other firms, as well as potentially partnering with in-house counsel and the client to develop the particular project.

In our TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono 2016, we found that by far the most common reason to perform pro bono was a desire to support the community. Training and skills development for lawyers, retention of staff, an alignment with the interests of the client and marketing were also reasons cited by lawyers carrying out pro bono work.

Why did you decide to team up with MovingWorlds?

We chose to partner with MovingWorlds as TrustLaw shares a similar theory of change: that we can enhance the work of organizations at the frontlines of social change by leveraging skilled talent worldwide. At TrustLaw, we believe that lawyers have essential skills that can help social impact organizations be better and more efficient at achieving their social missions. MovingWorlds’ Experteers create similar value, by bringing incredible talent from diverse fields to support organizations driving social change across the globe.

We knew that partnering with MovingWorlds was a chance to multiply our impact, as we could provide legal expertise to support MovingWorlds and in turn support the work of numerous organizations and Experteers across the globe.

How can an Experteering professional add value to the organizations you support through TrustLaw?

Our idea is to publish selected projects with Social Enterprises affiliated to TrustLaw through MovingWorlds. Most of our projects are only relevant for professionals with legal skills, but some of the organizations we support also look for professionals with related skills, such as strategy consultants or experts on human-centered design. This partnership allows us to channel those requests to MovingWorlds who will help them scope into projects and match them to the right expertise.

We’re excited to have connected with MovingWorlds and look forward to offering connections to the MovingWorlds network. We also hope that many of the members of our network will host Experteering professionals from MovingWorlds to build greater shared value.

Editor’s Note: We’re thrilled to have Trust Law as a partner and actively endorse their program to help promote social justice and equality. If your organization needs legal support you can contact us directly (derk@movingworlds.org), and we’ll connect you with the TrustLaw program if your organization meets their criteria. For other support needs, get started here and we can help you scope an opportunity on MovingWorlds and connect you with an Experteer.

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