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Goldman Sachs' Pro Bono Committee

In House Pro Bono Stories

Luke LI.jpeg

We sat down with Luke Arbuthnot and Deborah Smith,  Senior Legal Directors at Goldman Sachs and co-chairs of the firm's EMEA Pro Bono Committee to talk about the structure of their pro bono committee.


How long has your organisation had a pro bono committee and is it staffed?

The Committee has been in place for over 20 years, run by volunteer lawyers in our Legal Division. Our Committee covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa but we meet quarterly with our New York colleagues to collaborate with our Americas Pro Bono Committee. We've also recently expanded to include the firm’s Engineering and Compliance Divisions. This was a natural evolution as we saw the different skillsets our colleagues were bringing to our pro bono initiatives – especially with charities often needing tech support.  

What is the membership structure of your committee? Are non-lawyers included?

The Committee consists mostly of lawyers but we look to offer projects to everyone from the most junior to the most senior employees and including non-lawyers wherever possible.


While we are driven by our people's passions and we look for opportunities that align with those passions, our Committee has seven pillars to ensure we are focusing on important themes: (1) homelessness and social welfare; (2) immigration; (3) civil rights (including women and LGBTQ+); (4) racial equity; (5) criminal justice; (6) climate; and (7) business/charity education and mentoring. Each pillar has Committee Member oversight to ensure nothing is overlooked and that our offering is broad-based.


How do you define “pro bono”?

We are aware of institutional definitions but don’t have one ourselves. We're happy to be guided by people's interests and often do projects falling outside the typical description but aimed at providing support to those most in need. Some of the fund-raising and mentoring projects we have run might not fit squarely within the definition of pro bono but we believe they are an important way we can support charities and others in need.


How do you source projects?

No fixed way. We work with partner law firms and try to touch base with them at least twice a year to hear about what they are doing and to discuss potential opportunities for cooperation but we also have (limited) global pro bono insurance which means we are not reliant on law firms for their insurance coverage. We also take advantage of offerings organised by the In House Pro Bono Group.


Do you have an internal approval process for projects? 

Ideas come either from Committee Members or employees who reach out to us. If the project is viable, we run conflict clearance and diligence on the charity itself. We prepare project proposals which are then run past our MD Pro Bono Committee Sponsor and ultimately Andrew Bagley, our EMEA General Counsel, who is extremely supportive of our work. Once cleared, we send an email seeking volunteers. In the email, we look to explain the project and why it is important to us and set out the volunteer commitment expected and the number of volunteers needed. So far, we have never fallen short in a request, and this is largely due to support from senior management and our volunteers’ enthusiasm.


How do you encourage employee engagement?

We look to offer as wide a range of projects as possible and use different formats – from desk-based advice to research to in-person events. By way of example of the range, we have the Innocence Project with Weil Gotshal which has a pool of 30 very keen volunteers researching potential miscarriages of justice from their desks and in collaboration with other volunteers. We launched the Connect Legal Advice Clinic with Centrepoint and Herbert Smith Freehills and have a core of long-term volunteers who meet virtually with young homeless clients and clients at risk of homelessness. And we launched the Amani Project with Hogan Lovells with volunteers engaged for a six-month term, providing soft skills training and in-person mentoring to black and black-mixed race 16-19 year-olds deserving of a second chance. Each of our projects has a dedicated MD Sponsor, who helps oversee the project and support volunteers.


How do you track data around your pro bono projects/employee engagement?

We track volunteer engagements across all our projects including some that involve a specific sign-up system, such as our Community TeamWorks programme, which is used for our firmwide CSR volunteer days. The data helps us to account for the hours committed and impact made by the Pro Bono Committee.


What initiatives do you think would make pro bono more accessible or attractive to in-house lawyers?

We believe that pro bono is important for three main reasons. One, we are in a privileged position with the skills to make a difference and it’s the right thing to do. Two, selfishly, it is an effective way for our lawyers to hone their skills. Three, and again selfishly, it can be incredibly satisfying and an important way for us to retain the best talent.


A time commitment, even if aspirational, for all UK-qualified lawyers would be great and would encourage those who might be more sceptical about committing to pro bono. It could be run using a self-certification system but might help get those who are more reluctant over the line. Typically, once someone has tried a bit of pro bono work, they want to keep doing it


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