Thursday, July 20, 2017

Leading pan-African law firm, Bowmans, has released its 2016/17 Pro Bono and Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

A striking theme of the firm’s pro bono performance in the 12 months to 28 February 2017 was the emphasis on promoting social justice and access to justice.

Empowering small businesses and educating the public

Bowmans lawyers invested over 1 700 hours in its signature Ishishini Lethu initiative, giving legal advice worth ZAR 3.6 million to start-ups and small businesses at small business clinics.

Another matter that stood out was the local legal drama series Sokhulu & Partners. Bowmans provided legal assistance valued at ZAR 400 000 to the project. Aired on South African television in 2016, the series is seen as a public interest endeavour as it focused on how the Constitution and the Bill of Rights work in practice.

Upholding rights to equal treatment and peaceful protest

One of the biggest victories for an individual during the year was the ZAR 1.5 million damages award granted to a disabled client whose employer unfairly dismissed him when he returned to work after a failed suicide attempt that had left him with a facial disfigurement and a speech impediment.

Bowmans also helped a couple to give their premature baby, who died a few days after birth at 26 weeks, a dignified burial after encountering bureaucratic brick walls.

Another major win was the Durban High Court order in July 2016 upholding the right to peaceful protest. A health NGO had planned a march to the Indian consulate in protest against a crackdown in India on civil society groups, but the South African Police Service had prohibited the march. Bowmans was instrumental in ensuring it went ahead as planned.

Protecting Kenyan water source

Our Kenya operation  undertook some important pro bono work including contributing to the establishment of the Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund to protect the water source of millions of Kenyans living in Nairobi county.

How pro bono works at Bowmans

“Pro bono work is an integral part of our firm’s culture and we take it extremely seriously,” says Fatima Laher, pro bono manager at Bowmans. “Pro bono hours are captured like billable hours and everything is stringently verified and vetted, from the applications that come in to the opening and closing of files.”

She says pro bono work is part of the performance incentive of all Bowmans lawyers, and every effort is made to match pro bono cases to each lawyer’s core expertise and passion.

Lawyers at all levels in the firm shouldered their share of pro bono matters.

“Everyone contributes, from candidate attorneys through to the most senior partners,” Laher says. “We also collaborate with other organisations in many different areas to promote access to justice and build confidence in the rule of law.”

Bowmans South Africa invested over 11 000 hours - valued at approximately ZAR 22 million during 2016/17. The average pro bono contribution per lawyer at Bowmans South Africa for the year was 29 hours, higher than the mandatory 24 hours per year set by the Law Society of South Africa.

Says Laher: “As a pan-African firm committed to the jurisdictions where we have a presence, we strive to make a meaningful contribution to promoting social justice and access to justice.”