Building bridges through pro bono

Yasmin Waljee considers how law firms can work to improve community cohesion and demonstrate that ‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than that which divides us’

The UK has experienced some pretty challenging events in the last three months, at times representing a real fracturing of society. With the incidents of terrorism wreaking havoc on lives resulting in circumstances that we never envisaged could happen, the need to work harder to build bridges across society has never been more urgent.

London is often quoted as being one of the most diverse cities in the world. In fact, the Casey Review 2016 said that ‘Londoners, despite socialising more with people of different ethnic groups were proportionately less integrated by social grade, ethnicity and age than the rest of Britain – suggesting that greater diversity does not automatically lead to stronger integration.’

In his speech on extremism in 2015, David Cameron said ‘There is a danger in some of our communities that you can go your whole life and have little to do with people from other faiths and backgrounds.’ This might be true of the Muslim and ethnic minority communities, but it is just as true for the ‘Chipping Norton’ set. As a result, there is a clear need to nurture the UK’s reputation for tolerance by reaching out across communities and not waiting for them to reach out.

As a firm, Hogan Lovells supports Mosaic a project of the Prince’s Trust to raise the aspirations of young British Muslims through the Apax Enterprise Challenge. Each year a team of volunteers from the firm and other professions mentor teams of young people to develop a business idea to generate an income for their schools. We traditionally host the national final. In 2015 the young team that won developed a business idea which is now generating funds for charity. We have provided pro bono legal advice to enable the business idea to become reality.

However, we can only really provide an alternative to disaffection and potentially radicalisation if we take on board the findings of the report by Citizens UK, The Missing Muslims — Unlocking British Muslim Potential for the Benefit of All, which is the result of an 18-month study by a distinguished panel of commissioners chaired by Dominic Grieve MP. This report showed there are clear signs the Muslim communities are not getting access to employment opportunities that would go some way to addressing alienation.

But this is dependent on building trust with communities. Perhaps an even more significant example of trust-building, is our recent joint work with the firm Field Fisher Waterhouse for the victims of the Finsbury Park attack. For 20 years on and off, we have worked together to secure compensation for victims of terrorism incidents through the criminal injuries compensation scheme.

Our collaborative working was forged following the London Bombing attacks of 2005. We jointly advised on the successful campaign to enable British victims of terrorism abroad to get access to the criminal injuries compensation scheme. So when the incident at Finsbury Park Mosque occurred, it was natural that we and Jill Greenfield, personal injury partner at FFW, offered to help. Additionally, few people had realised that victims of terrorist attacks involving insured vehicles that occurred on or after 1 March are able to pursue civil claims for damages, as a result, we wanted to ensure the victims knew of this and did not turn to people who were offering to help who had no background in this area.

From the outset we were aware we needed to build trust with Finsbury Park Mosque and the victims who were suffering shock but also had not had any reason to know about the pro bono work of City firms. We have done that through the leadership of the Mosque community co-ordinators. We are now able to jointly provide specialist advice to the families. But almost more importantly is the fact that through the provision of pro bono advice we’ve built bridges across from City law firms into the heart of the communities at Mosque. It demonstrates we care and we can and do work together well. Through this effort we made new friends and colleagues at the Mosque. And they need friends across society, because only last week we heard, during an update visit to the Mosque to catch up with the families, that they are still receiving vicious hate mail.

At Hogan Lovells we will continue to build bridges across communities and are putting in pro bono time to advise the movement started by Brendan Cox, after his wife’s tragic murder, which aims to translate into practical work, Jo’s philosophy outlined in her maiden speech to Parliament that ‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than that which divides us. Join us #MoreinCommon


Yasmin Waljee OBE

About Yasmin Waljee OBE

Yasmin is international pro bono director at the international law firm Hogan Lovells

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