2021 Year in Review & 15 Years of Service
2021 marked the 15th anniversary of the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation! The Foundation was the brainchild of Dave Roll, then a member of the Lex Mundi Board of Directors and a partner at Steptoe & Johnson (USA, District of Columbia). During his tenure, he recognized the untapped potential for the network to serve communities globally. On his own initiative, he spent a year traveling the world, interviewing charitable organizations and exploring ways for Lex Mundi to give back. He identified a largely unmet need for transactional support that fell outside the realm of traditional pro bono matters involving criminal, family, and immigration law.
At that same time, social entrepreneurship was a new and relatively unknown concept. But Dave quickly understood that these innovators had the ability to find creative solutions for the world’s most pressing problems. He knew that by providing top-tier transactional legal support at the outset, Lex Mundi attorneys could greatly improve a social enterprise’s chance of success and impact. His vision led him to create the first pro bono network dedicated to providing transactional legal services to social entrepreneurs.
Over the years, the Foundation’s flagship matchmaking program has helped social enterprises scale faster, expand reach, secure funding, and ultimately achieve their powerful missions.
In 2021 alone, 61 member firms matched with 110 social entrepreneurs on 184 matters. Since inception, the Foundation has connected 129 Lex Mundi member firms with 938 social entrepreneurs on 2,046 individual matters across 43 U.S. states and territories and 103 countries!
At the December 2021 Connect & Collaborate Americas conference in Washington DC, we celebrated the Foundation’s success and commemorated Dave’s contribution to the pro bono field (video). Over the years, the Foundation has continued to evolve, providing additional services to social entrepreneurs and advancing the social entrepreneurship movement at large. Throughout 2021, the Foundation coordinated efforts as 66 Lex Mundi member firms conducted in-depth research identifying laws impacting social enterprises across 83 jurisdictions.
Attorneys at Morrison & Foerster (USA, California) consolidated this information into a Global Social Enterprise Policy Report, which identifies legal structures and policies nations can adopt to catalyze the advancement of social enterprises worldwide. Scheduled to launch publicly in the coming weeks, the report will be shared with government officials, policymakers, and key stakeholders throughout 2022 to inform discussions and effectuate legal change.
We cannot thank each Lex Mundi firm enough for your generosity and support over the past 15 years. We are thrilled to continue expanding the network’s impact in 2022 and championing the social entrepreneurship movement for years to come.
Advancing Legislation Protecting Children
In 2021, Uría Menéndez (Spain) demonstrated how, through collaboration, Lex Mundi member firms can make a positive difference.
After the enactment of Spanish Basic Law (Ley orgánica) 8/2021 of 4 June, addressing the protection of children and adolescents against violence, the Professor Uría Foundation, Save the Children, and the University of Barcelona Legal Clinic for the Protection of Children and Adolescents joined forces to conduct a research project. They sought to examine and analyze the existence and potential for specialized courts and prosecutors’ offices addressing violence against children and adolescents. The team ultimately produced a report in December 2021 outlining important legal considerations for future draft laws.
Before making recommendations, Uría Menéndez attorneys examined laws and regulations in other countries. To this end, they sent a detailed questionnaire to Lex Mundi member firms including Gide (France), Noerr (Germany), Chiomenti (Italy), Burness Paull (Scotland), and Arthur Cox (Ireland and Northern Ireland). The questions largely centered on: (i) whether specialized courts exist in the firms’ respective jurisdictions; (ii) how these courts function; (iii) the legal age of minors covered by juvenile criminal law; and (iv) any measures in place to protect children testifying in criminal proceedings.
The team at Uría Menéndez noted that the prompt and comprehensive insights provided by Lex Mundi firms bolstered their analysis and provided important insight into relevant practices across jurisdictions. The report is currently being used by a working group formed by Save the Children and the Professor Uría Foundation, members of the judiciary, prosecutors, scholars, and other key agents. Ultimately, in light of Spain’s pioneering child protection law, the group plans to continue exploring the issue and use the report to draft a proposal for a specialized court addressing violence against children.
Newly Redesigned Website
In October, we were thrilled to launch the Foundation’s updated website! The site includes many new and improved features for both attorneys and social entrepreneurs. A revamped Law for Change platform is available under the “Legal Resources” tab, where we’ve consolidated both internal and external research materials and guidance documents pertinent to social ventures. Resources range from Lex Mundi’s country-specific “Guides to Doing Business” to links to Stanford’s social entrepreneurship hub. We’ve worked to provide comprehensive materials that are helpful to social enterprises worldwide at various stages of growth. One of the many other improvements is the confidential, password-protected, online pro bono matter Digest. The Digest is live and updated with new matters as they come in. Attorneys at the Foundation still scope and draft each legal ask and are happy to answer any questions about open matters. The password is available upon request. We encourage all members of the Lex Mundi community to visit the site and explore its new functionalities.
Supporting Communities During the Pandemic
More than two years into the pandemic, social enterprises have become invaluable resources to many in need. Because these organizations are typically agile and community-oriented, they can effectively identify needs on the ground that might otherwise have fallen through the cracks.
One notable example is GatherFor. The GatherFor team identifies individuals facing joblessness and food insecurity due to the pandemic and coordinates a support team of local community members. The support teams help get people back on their feet, assisting with everything from applying for benefits to securing new livelihoods. In addition to donating funds to those in need, GatherFor also provides the support teams with valuable resources. These include, but are not limited, to social worker coaches, online trainings, and access to a robust network of partners coordinating essential services.
Due to the importance of quickly rolling out programming at the beginning of the Pandemic, GatherFor initially incorporated as an LLC in New Mexico. However, their primary work was in New York. GatherFor’s founder, Teju Ravilochan, came to the Foundation seeking assistance establishing a nonprofit. At this point, the team at Akerman (USA, Florida) generously stepped in to help.
After the engagement, Ravilochan contacted the Foundation writing, “Starting an organization disbursing cash payments and organizing mutual aid among those facing job, food, and housing insecurity [it] was not easy to convince the IRS [to] offer a tax exemption. But Akerman lawyers helped us convey our honest intentions in a nuanced way to successfully secure our 501c3 status in a speedy four months.”
GatherFor’s presence and impact in various communities demonstrates that together lawyers, social entrepreneurs, and individuals alike can make a positive difference during these difficult times. Ravilochan concluded that “The thoughtful, attentive guidance from Akerman proved foundational [support] to GatherFor, allowing us to secure our first foundation funding and make sure we can stay focused on our mission: organize and resource neighbors to support each other through crisis.”