What is the Value of a Network for Pro Bono Legal Assistance?

17 December 2018

At the recent 2018 PILnet Global Forum, ROLE UK’s panel discussion, 'The Value of a Network', explored the opportunities and challenges of a country-focused multidisciplinary network for legal pro bono.

Moderated by Naomi Barnard, ROLE UK Programme Manager, the panel comprised Lloydette Bai-Marrow (ParaMetric Global Consulting), Gelaga King (2 Bedford Row), and Rebecca Perlman (African Commercial Law Foundation), all practising lawyers in the UK and active members of the UK Sierra Leone Pro Bono Network (UKSLPBN).

The UKSLPBN is an umbrella network which works to coordinate UK legal professionals and organisations interested in providing pro bono legal assistance to Sierra Leone.

Drawing on the experience of the UKSLPBN, the discussion highlighted the many benefits of using a network to provide pro bono legal expertise.


The benefits that networks provide

The UKSLPBN has positioned itself as the interlocutor between the Sierra Leonean authorities and pro bono legal providers from the UK. Through its local representative, the network maintains a constant dialogue with these authorities. This ensures that pro bono assistance is demand-led and effectively addresses the needs of the legal and judicial sectors in Sierra Leone.

The UKSLPBN brings together a wide range of pro bono providers - solicitors, barristers, judges, and civil society organisations - who share their respective experiences and insights. This multidisciplinary approach helps to better meet the diverse needs of Sierra Leone’s legal professionals or governmental bodies.

The network itself is a valuable source of information for pro bono providers about the socio-political and legal contexts of Sierra Leone.

Compared with development projects that are generally funded for two or three years, the continuity of the network allows it to take a long-term view; a perspective which is fundamental to establishing strong relations with authorities as well as with the donor community. This long-term approach avoids reinventing the wheel constantly, makes learning from past experiences possible and encourages building on past achievements.


Key success stories from the UKSLPBN

Rebecca shared the example of the first Sierra Leone Commercial Law Summit in 2017, organised with the support of the UKSLPBN, which brought together senior legal and judicial officials from three countries, namely Sierra Leone, the UK and Ghana. Together, they worked to address gaps in commercial law and formulate practical reform proposals to strengthen economic growth and sustainable development in Sierra Leone. Alongside the summit, peer-to-peer learning events were held between judges and law librarians from Sierra Leone, Ghana and the UK.

Gelaga highlighted, among others, the support provided through the network to the Sierra Leonean Fast-Track Commercial Court: on a first, visit, David Mackie CBE QC, retired Senior Circuit Judge, shared his experience with his counterparts and, together, they identified ways to improve the functioning of the Fast-Track Commercial Court; then a follow-up visit gave rise to a workshop to monitor progress.


Replicating the model to other jurisdictions: Is there a recipe for success?

Our speakers emphasised some elements which have been decisive for the UKSLPBN. If a network is about bringing together different skills and expertise, its value also derives from the personalities of its members.

In the UK, Richard Honey, Chairman of the Steering Group, has been instrumental in the success of the UKSLPBN. As Lloydette highlighted, a key strength of the network is their ability to work with British lawyers from the Sierra Leone diaspora who can bring their legal expertise along with their understanding of the local context.

The UKSLPBN employs a full-time representative who is local to Sierra Leone. Momo Turay has proven to be a major asset for the network by providing up-to-date contextual information and by maintaining an on-going dialogue between the UKSLPBN and the justice stakeholders in Sierra Leone.

It is worth investing the time to find someone who can navigate the social, political and cultural context, ensure regular face-to-face meetings with authorities while simultaneously staying away from partisan politics.

Our speakers all stressed that strengthening the rule of law requires time and may sometimes encounter setbacks. Rebecca provided the example of a guide on commercial contracts negotiations, developed with the support of the UKSLPBN, that lay on a shelf gathering dust for three years before being picked up by a Ministry for Finance official and used for trainings. What could have been considered a failure in the short-term, turned out to be a success in the end.

A country-focused network, like the UKSLPBN, could certainly be replicated as a coordinating and interface mechanism with other jurisdictions. But this is not the only modality possible: a multi-country network could for instance be centred on a specific legal issue.

Finally, speakers stressed the importance of ROLE UK’s support, not only to fund technical assistance activities, but especially to introduce UKSLPBN legal experts to development-sector approaches and tools, such as monitoring and evaluation or strategic planning.

Please circulate this post through your networks and contact us at roleuk@a4id.org and on social media (LinkedIn and Twitter) to share success stories or challenges you may have encountered in your experience of networks. If you want to know more about how partnerships can contribute to positive and sustainable Rule of Law impact, please read this article on our blog.

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