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Visa Europe's Pro Bono Committee

In House Pro Bono Stories

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We sat down with Juan Lázaro Peña, Senior Managing Counsel at Visa about the exciting growth of the Visa pro bono committee.

How long has your organisation had a pro bono committee and how is it organised?
Visa has been very active in pro bono globally for over a decade, however, the Visa Europe pro bono committee started in earnest in October 2017. We have a Global Committee with an Executive Sponsor (a senior lawyer that reports to the General Counsel) and 19 members, two of whom represent the Europe Committee. The Europe Committee has eight members. The Global Committee meets on a monthly basis and the Europe Committee meets around twice a month. We have no dedicated staff and everyone involved does it on a voluntary basis.

Everyone in the Visa Legal Ethics and Compliance team (both lawyer and non-lawyers), is welcome to participate in pro bono volunteer work and on the committee. We try to find opportunities that can use a broad skillset. Non-lawyers assist with things like research and the first draft of letters. Lawyers focus on queries that require client discussions, draft legal documents, review contracts, and supervise and approve any work prepared by non-lawyers.

How do you define “pro bono”?
I define pro bono as volunteer services that are associated with legal queries. That can be quite broad and incorporate advising on policy, letter writing, research and other advice. We do not have a formal definition.


How do you source projects?
We have a variety of ways. Law firms are helpful but we also use clearing houses like LawWorks. We rarely self-source, but we have done through established organisations that have partnerships with other global companies. 


Do you have an internal approval process for projects? 
We have a risk committee that is involved for certain projects. For smaller, discrete projects that are sourced through a Bar Association or clearing house associated with the Law Society (like LawWorks) the committee reviews the project first and it is then distributed to the whole team. 


How do you encourage or reward employee engagement?
We talk about pro bono during interviews and have created a culture where volunteering is an important part of a career at Visa. We provide time off for volunteering and incentives like allotting funds for hours volunteered that can be donated to registered charities. We also frequently celebrate colleagues' efforts. Pro bono forms part of employee annual reviews and is considered when providing evaluations for career progression and compensation.


Do you track data around your pro bono projects and if so, how?
Each employee self-reports their volunteer hours, which are logged in a database. We also log things like planning time, types of projects and what types of community members we are assisting (students/education, the elderly, homeless, asylum seekers).


Please tell us about some of the pro bono projects you are working on
I am currently working on an asylum project through an organisation called Oasis, assisting them to create country reports which form part of asylum-seekers' applications. The organisation specifically assists LGBTQ+ asylum seekers fleeing discrimination and violence. I also volunteer at a weekly clinic called the Islington Legal Advice Centre, providing housing advice to Londoners.


Name either one ask for additional support or one key challenge that you are working on
I believe that in-house teams should encourage pro bono legal services and enact targets, like 10 hours a year. I believe these are doable and would go a long way in helping to ease the incredible need for services.

What initiatives do you think would make pro bono more accessible or attractive to in-house lawyers?
I find that the more flexible a project is, the more likely it is that people will volunteer. Discrete projects dealing with minor legal issues usually take a few hours and go a long way to help individuals in need. We also need to make sure people understand where they can go to get help. We do this by providing access to research and training through WestLaw, Reuters, our panel law firms, and membership to pro bono organisations like LawWorks.


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