Law firms across Asia are putting profits aside to focus on pro bono work, community engagement, sustainability, and staff welfare. Vandana Chatlani reports.

Law firms have long recognised the importance of promoting access to justice and forging a culture that values and takes social responsibility seriously. Mastering legal concepts and building business acumen form an important part of a law firm’s offerings and success. However, providing meaningful opportunities and a solid growth plan for staff, promoting diversity and inclusion, and supporting the community go a long way towards recognition, reputation and employee retention.

Dechert is one such firm that abides by this logic. “The drive for positive change across the firm and the communities we live and work in is embedded in our day-to-day at Dechert, and is a commitment we continue to make,” says Dean Collins, the firm’s managing partner in Singapore. “Championing a culture of diversity, equity, respect and well-being is core to our values and business strategy.”

Globally, Dechert has handled pro bono matters covering a range of issues including child advocacy, special education, access to public benefits, immigration, criminal law and the representation of non-profit organisations. In Hong Kong, Dechert’s pro bono clients include: the UN Refugee Agency; Festyle, a social enterprise supporting women’s economic empowerment; and RainLily, a clinic supporting survivors of sexual violence.

Dean CollinsLawyers at Dechert are expected to devote a minimum of 25 hours each year to pro bono services, and many surpass that. “In 2021, the average number of pro bono hours [each] recorded globally was 101.8,” says Collins.

Many law firms have adopted pro bono policies and dedicate resources to pro bono work, while others leave the decision to individual lawyers. Several now consider pro bono activities alongside billable work, rainmaking and other parameters when assessing new candidates and deciding on bonuses and promotions. Many have realised that such incentives are necessary to promote these practices in a long-term, thoughtful and sustainable way.

Such is the case at LNT & Partners. “Each lawyer at LNT has a target to participate in charity work, which involves distributing funds to disadvantaged people in remote villages or providing pro bono advisory services to disadvantaged people in court,” says Le Net, a partner at LNT in Ho Chi Minh City. “This is considered one of the key performance indicators for our lawyers.”

In the past few weeks, Asia Business Law Journal invited law firms across Asia to tell us about the policies, philosophies and initiatives of which they are most proud. We are thrilled to have received hundreds of submissions from international, regional and local law firms eager to share with us their initiatives. Unfortunately, due to space constraints, we can only highlight a limited number of these entries.

This report offers a snapshot of the philanthropic endeavours, pro bono activities, climate action and good governance that is in healthy blossom around the region.

Diversity and inclusion

Many law firms have looked seriously into their diversity and inclusion (D&I) charters in a bid to showcase their commitment to equal opportunities, and celebrate differences.

However, there is no single approach to tackling homogeneity at a law firm, especially in Asia, where the problems of sameness, unfair practices and discrimination vary substantially. Law firms in the region share some of the same challenges as their counterparts in the West, but there are also unique issues such as caste, tribal affinity, socioeconomic realities and societal structures that can inform which communities are able to get a seat at the table and climb the social and working ranks.

“What D&I means and how D&I goals are achieved across a diverse region like Asia is challenging due to hugely varying demographic, cultural and legal factors,” says Marcia Ellis, partner and global private equity co-chair at Morrison Foerster (MoFo) in Hong Kong.

Marcia EllisIn a bid to promote greater diversity in the legal profession, MoFo in Hong Kong has launched a new diversity internship programme for first and second-year LLB students in the city identifying as ethnic minorities. Successful applicants spend four weeks at the firm’s Hong Kong office, gaining professional experience through assignments and projects to better position them for employment.

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