Stephen and Brooke - Herbert Smith Freehills

Global Head of Pro Bono and Pro Bono Counsel, Brooke Massender, and Pro Bono Solicitor, Stephen Somerville

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is an integral pro bono supporter of IMCL, and the 9-year partnership between the two organisations has only strengthened through its involvement in IMCL’s health justice partnerships and a secondment arrangement to IMCL.  IMCL spoke with HSFs’ Global Head of Pro Bono and Pro Bono Counsel, Brooke Massender, and Pro Bono Solicitor, Stephen Somerville. 

HSF is committed to supporting organisations like IMCL that support disadvantaged and marginalised individuals, and it has the added advantage of developing the professional skills and global experience of its young lawyers.

"As a firm, we need to ensure we are good corporate citizens, and as lawyers, it is our professional responsibility to give back to the community," explains Mr Somerville.

From secondee placements to funding groundbreaking health justice partnership work

HSF’ involvement with IMCL has been varied and has evolved over time, from providing pro bono legal support to IMCL (including preparing memorandums of understanding for IMCL's health justice partnerships), funding some of IMCL’s health justice partnerships and providing secondees to work at IMCL. 

HSF contributed seed funding to IMCL's Acting on the Warning Signs Project when it was just a kernel of an idea. 

"I believe the phrase health justice partnerships did not exist at that point," reflects Ms Massender.

"IMCL had the idea to test something out and we were happy to back their expertise. The work that was done from that funding enabled IMCL to  pull the project together and it resulted in important data that showed the model worked. It was the foundation model that was then expanded to other hospital sites."

Enabling IMCL to exercise its expertise and be flexible and innovative

Ms Massender emphasises that the funding available through the partnership from HSF enables IMCL to be more flexible and innovative with its ideas for improving access to justice for the community. 

"Even if government funding is available, it often comes with a lot of expectations, monitoring and reporting requirements which can make progress cumbersome," explains Ms Massender. 

"In the private sector we can be quicker and agile, without some of the bureaucracy that exist around other funding sources."

However, HSF is conscious that little of its pro bono work for low income and disadvantaged people could be performed without partnerships like the one it has with IMCL.

"At the end of the day, HSF is a commercial law firm, and we couldn’t do what we do in the community legal sector without relationships with experts such as IMCL," explains Mr Somerville. 

"IMCL is much better placed in assisting disadvantaged people, and they are the experts in that area."

Ms Massender agrees, adding that the capacity in the community legal sector enables the capacity in the pro bono legal sector. 

"There is a really nice mutuality in the relationship we have, and there is certainly not one-way traffic."

 Upskilling young lawyers 

"The skills and professional development that you get out of pro bono work as a lawyer is so important, particularly the autonomy of interviewing clients and going to court - this is crucial from our perspective for engaging our lawyers, retaining staff and recruiting staff too," explains Mr Somerville.

Ms Massender agrees, recalling early days in her career where she cut her teeth on pro bono cases.

"Many, many moons ago, a lot of my firsts were in a pro bono context: the first time I ever lead an interview with a client, the first time I ever drafted a witness statement from scratch, the first time I ever stood up in court – it was a very formative experience."

"Working on pro bono cases is beneficial for the lawyer and a firm’s commercial clients in the long-term too, explains Ms Massender, as more junior lawyers have an opportunity away from a large commercial context to hone their skills and better understand the legal practice.

"Often the commercial matters are so big, with huge teams and many layers between you and the client. In the pro bono context, lawyers can really spread their wings."