Honduras: The Pro Bono Work Is Not A Mission Accomplished, Much Remains To Be Done

Last Updated: 21 September 2016
Article by Guadalupe Martinez Casas

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 justice.

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 visitors.

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 accept them.

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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