The last year before my graduation as a lawyer, I did the
required legal practice of free legal service. A group of students
and me, led by a lawyer, gave legal support to poor people in the
consultations they had and we obtained benefits of litigating
without costs, food regimes and visits, permits to leave the
country and registration of people for obtaining documents, among
other procedures. It was really rewarding to guide them. Having had
to pay a lawyer, these people would not have had access to
Since then I realized that, for me, the mission of a lawyer was
to make their profession available to other to people with and
without resources and therefore I committed myself when I got my
degree and certificate.
As Executive Director of the firm CENTRAL LAW I have coordinated
our pro bono work regionally wide since 2010 and each of our
offices in Central America, Panama and the Dominican Republic have
signed the Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas, an initiative of
the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice of the New York
City Bar and other leading firms in Latin America.
Following the subscription the company has committed to perform
pro bono work at least 20 hours per year. I have coordinated
various pro bono, from the support regarding notification of
judgments to non-advice on a daily basis to not for profit
organizations that are engaged in child protection, human rights
and the protection of natural resources.
Compared to other Latin American countries that are most active
in pro bono and have more Clearing Houses as Argentina, Chile, Peru
and Colombia, I must say that Central America, Panama and the
Dominican Republic are making a great effort though the pro bono
work, in general, seems to be dedicated to isolated legal
consulting instead of constant legal advice organizations or
projects. Clearing Houses are mostly providers of pro bono work and
sometimes the same non-profit organizations and / or international
firms are the one that directly ask local support. I wish there are
more projects in Central America as those seen in South America:
for example, help a city to further protect the environment or help
public colleges and universities to provide access for people with
physical disability, etc.
Some barriers currently facing the pro bono in Central America
could include lack of Clearing Houses or centers of local /
regional coordination; the lack of institutionalization within
firms; and a limited culture of pro bono work in the region.
Universities and Colleges promote pro bono lawyers but it seems not
be enough to achieve a culture of pro bono work and neither promote
nor lead projects that could be undertaken in collaboration with
other stakeholders to make a better city for its citizens and
In order to contribute to the institutionalization of pro bono
in the region, at CENTRAL LAW we have developed a manual of
internal understanding to assist in these issues and which
basically consists of a regional coordinator and a country partner
as the pro bono manager. We make a pro bono report detailed by
subject, reference entity or firm, country, lawyers and number of
hours involved. The firm takes all pro bono cases that arise,
except when it comes to times in the year when there are fewer
staff because they are on vacation or when it comes to issues where
the attorneys are sensitive to it and prefer not to engage or
In the last 5 years the firm has been awarded the recognition of
"Leading Light", awarded by the Vance Center with Latin
Lawyer and given to firms that have excelled in pro bono work.
CENTRAL LAW has also been awarded for its pro bono work at the Bar
of Costa Rica.
About 20 years after my graduation as a lawyer, the feeling is
equally rewarding for having led different persons, natural and
legal, with limited resources, to realize their projects and to
meet their needs that would otherwise not have been able to
achieve. The mission as a lawyer has been accomplished which does
not mean "mission accomplished" in terms of work, because
much remains to be done.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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