GSK's Pro Bono Committee
In House Pro Bono Stories
We sat down with Antonio Suarez-Martinez, Assistant General Counsel at ViiV Healthcare to learn about the GSK pro bono committee.
How long has your organisation had a pro bono committee?
The Pro bono team originated in US and then about five years ago we set up a UK programme, which then extended to a global committee, adding representatives from Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific. We want to expand the programme as widely as possible so all of our lawyers have the chance to do this work.
How is the committee organised?
We have a Pro Bono Chair based in the US, who actively champions pro bono with like-minded colleagues across the globe, and representatives based in two other US states. Then we have regional areas with their own representative, so Europe, Latam, Asia-Pac, with myself representing the UK. We have seven members in total plus an administrator who helps coordinate. There are no dedicated pro bono staff members but we're supported by an administrator who in part of her time helps to co-ordinate meetings and drive engagement. The committee meets once a quarter.
What is the membership structure of your committee?
The committee is made up purely of lawyers and the work we do is primarily aimed at those who are legally qualified (including trainees and paralegals) but we're looking to expand so non-lawyers can participate as well on certain matters under the guidance of a qualified lawyer. We have our own pro bono insurance, and under the policy, all work must be supervised by a lawyer in order to comply with its terms. But we have non-lawyers who wish to support us and they can get involved, for example, in reviewing transcripts and documentation, and preparing certain materials.
How do you define “pro bono”?
We are focused on providing free legal advice to a qualifying person who is basically an individual or entity who cannot afford legal services. This usually means providing support to a charity or an individual.
How do you source projects?
In a mixture of ways. We do some self-sourcing, we partner with law firms and also use pro bono brokers such as TrustLaw, who do excellent work. When we partner with law firms, sometimes we approach them and connect with their pro bono co-ordinator, but it works the other way as well. We like to think of our relationships as symbiotic. Through our Charitable Investments team we have identified charities that are in need of pro bono support which is also a useful font of projects.
Do you have an internal approval process for projects?
Since we have insurance, each project must be approved by the committee to make sure it is compliant. So a project will be pitched, analysed and approved after checks for conflicts and for reputational issues. It is then advertised on our internal message board and people can sign up to volunteer.
How do you encourage employee engagement?
Sometimes we approach colleagues directly who we think will be interested in a particular project. We advertise on our Workplace pro bono group or Legal Department page. We also go through leadership channels to identify potential volunteers, which also means the tone is set from the top. The projects that attract the most interest align with the mission of the company, so opportunities in healthcare are popular.
In the US, where doing pro bono is more established, we've taken on the Pro Bono Institute's challenge of getting 50% of our lawyers to do some pro bono work, and this is endorsed by the GSK Group's General Counsel.
Do you track data around your pro bono projects and if so, how?
We don’t time record so we ask employees to self-record and collect the information at end of the year.
What initiatives do you think would make pro bono more attractive to in-house lawyers?
I would like to see pro bono work rewarded through matched charitable contributions that the employee could donate to a charitable organisation of their choice. So the number of pro bono hours you do would be matched by an equivalent monetary donation to a charity. That feels like it could incentivise further, and make the work feel even more rewarding. I know there are certain companies that have amazing schemes like that.
Formal recognition within the appraisal system would also be good. In reality, we rely more on word of mouth and people understanding the work is rewarding but also interesting and challenging. Some of my best and most rewarding achievements as a lawyer have been for pro bono clients, with life-changing consequences in some instances. We want everyone to have the chance to participate in having that feeling, that sense of purpose, and delivering that impact for a client who is usually in desperate need of legal advice.