SLS PRO BONO PROGRAMME
What do you mean by “Pro Bono”?
At Studio Legale Sutti, by “pro bono work” we mean any kind of legal work performed in the interest of a client which is entirely or partially financed by the Firm itself. We pride ourselves of being amongst the few European firms having established a pro bono programme and budget, and consider such work as an integral part, and an identifying feature, of our practice.
How does one qualify to admission to Studio Legale Sutti’s Pro Bono programme?
Anybody can apply. What is peculiar to our programme is that not only individuals can be admitted, but also legal entities, such as not-for-profit organisations, and even businesses. Poverty is not a requirement either, but only that it be impossible for the party concerned to bear the costs related to the legal work their situation would require. In turn, “impossible” does not indicate absolute impossibility, but extends to cases where instructing counsel would not be economically feasible or viable in the circumstances. This of course broadens the scope of our programme in comparison to Legal Aid-like public services, which are non-existent or largely ineffective anyway in the systems of law on which Studio Legale Sutti advises its clients (namely, those of Italy, Bulgaria, Serbia-Montenegro, Romania and Croatia).
What kind of legal services may be obtained under SLS’s Pro Bono programme?
Basically, all the services ordinarily provided by the Firm. While in the past much of our pro bono work has been related to civil litigation, or criminal defence and prosecution, this need not always be the case: non-contentious matters are also frequent, and simple advice, or assistance in negotiations, may be all that is required. Moreover, instructions are sometimes accepted pro bono in areas of law or with respect to kinds of work which are not strictly speaking part of SLS’s current mission or core business. This is especially the case for the representation of private clients, which has been, at least in the last twenty years, a very small part of our activity, but is for obvious reasons a much more significant portion of our pro bono work.
How can the offer of services for free be compatible with Bar rules applicable in several jurisdictions which provide for minimum price and tariffs, and more in general with rules against unfair competition?
Economic theory shows that the provision of services for free is fully consistent with, and even typical of, the structure of oligopolistic markets, as it reduces the market output, and thus the tension on prices. Moreover, those services satisfy needs which by definition would not contribute otherwise to market demand. Lastly, with respect to the particular market of legal services, pro bono programmes indirectly increase rather than reduce the market demand for billable services, as it is well explained by Richard A. Posner in Overcoming the Law (Harvard University Press, 1996), since the other private and public parties involved in the matter concerned, be it contentious of non-contentious, are bound in any event to make a larger use of legal skills owing to those exceptionally available to the beneficiaries of such programmes.
Thus, pro bono programmes have little to do with aggressive pricing, or with the offer for commercial reasons of free services within the framework of a more complex instruction or of an ongoing relationship – which all belong to the area of billing methods and marketing.
What is the interest of the Firm in offering services “pro bono”?
While philanthropy is often automatically invoked in this respect, we believe to be in a position to offer a number of additional sound and plausible business reasons why this is in the Firm’s best interest.
Besides the goodwill possibly generated among some actual and prospective paying clients by the very existence of our pro bono programme, the same programme, for example, allows SLS members to express their support for causes they may personally approve of – thus becoming a component of their non-monetary compensation, irrespective of the fact that a personal or ideological simpathy may exist from our side for the actual position of the client, or that principles of a more general nature are felt to be at stake, such as the right to counsel. This explains why more than a few of our pro bono efforts have been deliberately devoted to very unpopular cases and individuals – some of whom we believe would have never been accepted as clients, even paying clients, by most of our direct competitors.
In other cases, this programme allows us to experiment with new legislation; or to allocate resources disproportionate to the amount the matter is actually worth in order to establish new precedents; or to try and reverse existing case law on a given issue, which we believe can be usefully attacked – sometimes in the ultimate interest of other existing or prospective clients.
Lastly, many of the cases we accept pro bono are admittedly headline-grabbers, and so contribute to the Firm’s domestic and international visibility.
How can one have access to Studio Legale Sutti’s Pro Bono programme?
No special formalities are involved. Applicants can freely contact a partner in one of our correspondence languages, at any SLS office, providing all the necessary information on their predicament. The applicant can rely on his admission only after receiving a written confirmation of the specific terms applicable to his position and the nature and limits of the Firm’s contribution.
The decision to admit an applicant to SLS’s pro bono programme is of course fully discretional. Among factors taken into account are the investments required in comparison with the expected results, and the client’s ability to cooperate effectively in the initiatives followed in his interest, for instance with regard to enforcement of judgments to be obtained, preliminary investigations and collecting of evidence, or media relations.
Our Pro Bono Programme is under the responsibility of Dr. Eleonora Ballarino. No statements herein can be construed as a public offer, or as granting an actionable right to anybody. Further information on SLS Pro Bono Programme can be obtained by writing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SLS Pro Bono Programme has been commented by, inter alia, The Lawyer 09/06/2002 (“Sutti Sets Pro Bono Challenge”), Legal Week 12/06/2003 (“Sutti Scores Pro Bono First for Home Market”), The British-Italian Business News Digest 16/06/2003.
(C) 2003, SLS Ltd., London.