DLA Piper Strengthens the Future of Law in the Pacific.

(PR.co.nz) Pacific Island law students learn from top New Zealand lawyer.

DLA Piper has a longstanding pro bono commitment to supporting the rule of law in Pacific Island nations. As part of this, the firm develops the legal knowledge and skills of lawyers from countries including Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Tonga to help them better assist their local communities’ access legal help.

In January, 21 Fijian (and Tongan) law students gathered at the University of the South Pacific (Suva) for a week-long seminar with Iain Thain, a DLA Piper litigation partner from Auckland, along with DLA Piper Sydney lawyers, Michael Gill (Pro Bono Consultant) and Catriona Martin (Asia Pacific Pro Bono Director). The emphasis of the course was on both pro bono work and improving access to justice, as well as legal ethics and working with vulnerable clients.

For many law students in the Pacific, their only opportunity to study law is online so these kinds of face-to-face seminars are invaluable. The students meet experienced practitioners from different jurisdictions and are given the chance to discuss social justice issues and practice legal drafting and interviewing skills in an interactive setting.

“There are always gaps in communities’ ability to access justice,” says Iain Thain, “and these young people were keen to fill them, to learn more and make effective contributions to their own communities.”

It is intended that these Pacific law students will take their enthusiasm for pro bono work back to their local and wider communities and, when they graduate, contribute to a generational shift as they change conservative attitudes in their local firms.

As a responsible business and large international firm, DLA Piper feels a deep responsibility to contribute to social justice in the Pacific and is currently the only law firm doing this.

In New Zealand, pro bono work is formalised within DLA Piper, to give it the status it deserves.

“Young graduates expect nothing less now,” says Iain Thain, “The personal satisfaction that comes from pro bono is immense. Lawyers have always done this work, but often privately. Sometimes in the past you would never know the scope of a lawyer’s pro bono commitment until you read their obituary!”

He says, “That ad hoc approach of the past meant that access to justice with pro bono legal help was often a matter of luck”.

“Now, by openly embedding and rewarding pro bono work at firms, it becomes a more important part of legal life, and by setting targets for it, as we do, you can measure the power of it as a force for good.”

Some countries – like Fiji – have had their legal processes interrupted in recent times; any initiatives that practically assist human rights and strengthen societies are important. Just as vital, for these Fijian law students, is being able to help individuals locally, in their own neighbourhoods.

“Pro bono publico” means “for the public good”, not just “free legal advice”. Thousands of New Zealand lawyers are seriously committed to that idea. DLA Piper is finding as many ways as possible to strengthen that commitment.