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.
Many practices already adopt 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.
“We help address systemic inequalities, and support access to justice for all with our pro bono initiatives,” says Mayank Arya, the chief operating officer at Ashwathh Legal in New Delhi. “Our pro bono initiatives have helped startups in devising their IP strategy before going to market as well as helping clients who are fighting insolvency by protecting their brands and IP assets from being attached.”
The firm has an equal gender representation (four females, four males) among fee earners. It promotes religious diversity and provides opportunities to individuals from diverse backgrounds.
“Many of our junior lawyers provide pro bono services to NGOs and other organisations,” says Vandana Randhawa, director at Legacy Law Offices in Chandigarh. “Lawyers and other non-lawyer staff of the firm, irrespective of their position, are encouraged to execute their responsibilities towards the community differently as may be suitable to them.”
In the past few weeks, our sister publication 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 legal 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.
“In addition to hiring candidates from diverse backgrounds, we’ve taken educative steps to eliminate recruitment biases of any kind,” says Shweta Shroff Chopra, partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co in New Delhi. “We’ve hired a few visually impaired candidates and provide internship opportunities to the economically weaker section and the LGBTQ community. Also, we’ve taken steps to build work infrastructure to enable them to do assigned roles. Usage of gender-neutral pronouns and language is another step we’ve taken to emphasise our philosophy.”