Latin Lawyer is pleased to announce the winner of this year’s Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year Award: Beccar Varela in Argentina.
Lawyers at Beccar Varela have made extraordinary efforts to help bridge the gap in access to justice in Argentina by addressing some of the most prevalent social disparities experienced by vulnerable groups of the population. The firm has also implemented a robust pro bono structure that ensures advisers both meet and exceed their pro bono targets.
In 2021, legal advisers at the Argentine firm collectively recorded a total of 4,002 hours of pro bono work between them. That relates to an average of 42 hours per lawyer – more than double the yearly target of 20 pro bono hours per lawyer, which is set out by the pro bono institute the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice.
After the covid-19 pandemic exposed critical social crises taking place across Argentina and Latin America, particularly those experienced by poorer and more vulnerable areas of the population, Beccar Varela stepped up its pro bono response. The firm provided free legal assistance to a total of 118 non-governmental organisations in 2021. Those organisations received help from one or more of the 21 pro bono initiatives that Beccar Varela launched last year.
In one such initiative, the firm collaborated with Argentine clearinghouse Comisión Pro Bono to launch a 24-hour covid-19 helpline. Through that service, advisers provided free legal assistance to the public and provided reassurance by answering queries about the fast-changing coronavirus-related regulation. Through the programme, the firm provided legal advice to some 2,000 callers that used the telephone service throughout 2020 and 2021.
Beccar Varela’s pro bono programme has also helped Argentine people from low socioeconomic backgrounds transcend social barriers. Last year, the firm achieved this through its continued advice to Potrero Digital, a digital education initiative set up by local NGO Compromiso. Potrero Digital is an online learning platform that offers training courses in technological and digital skills to young Argentine people in vulnerable situations, helping them integrate into high-growth sectors of the economy. The firm helped the learning platform become entirely virtual in the months after the pandemic began, and in 2021 alone some 3,000 students from low socioeconomic backgrounds enrolled in the programme and some 700 have found jobs thanks to the initiative.
The Argentine firm is heavily involved in raising awareness about the importance of pro bono work in the wider legal community too. For example, the firm participates annually in the Desafío Federal Pro Bono – a nationwide contest held by Argentina’s national pro bono network, through which law students compete to launch a winning pro bono project. The firm is currently helping some of the winners launch a project aimed at helping indigenous people in the country’s Formosa province get better access to justice, while it is helping another successful contestant roll out a programme for the reintegration of prison inmates into society.
Beccar Varela’s pro bono practice stands out because of its unique structure. Since 2016, the firm’s pro bono programme has been integrated with its sustainability strategy. In doing so, the outfit set out a framework that measures the number of pro bono hours completed by the firm and its lawyers, setting out individual and collective goals to reach. The firm has a dedicated pro bono co-ordinator and committee to help organise the work. Corporate sustainability director Evangelina Petrizza leads the committee as the firm’s pro bono co-ordinator, and is accompanied by associates Felipe Videla, Mariana Lamarca Vidal and María Cecilia Cappelletti. Partner Fernanda Mierez also stands out for her contributions here. She was the first female president of Argentina’s pro bono commission, a role which she has held for three years. Partner Roberto Crouzel was also instrumental in setting up the firm’s pro bono committee nearly two decades ago.
Along with one-off projects, Beccar Varela uses its pro bono practice to drive wider systemic change. By providing consistent regulatory advice to NGOs and non-profit organisations in Argentina, the firm’s guidance has allowed charitable organisations to continue their activities on a wide scale and with minimal disruption. The firm also measures its pro bono work by impact, giving greater attention to those matters that drive the largest amount of social change. Also among the areas that Beccar Varela’s pro bono programme measures is the number of pro bono clients it has and the number of lawyers helping on relevant cases, among others.
Since launching its pro bono practice in 2004, Beccar Varela has provided 36,675 hours of free legal advice to 1,574 non-profit organisations and social initiatives.
Latin Lawyer will present Beccar Varela with its award at its annual charity awards ceremony at the Hotel Unique in São Paulo on Thursday 5 May. Tickets are available here.