The Pro Bono Ripple Effect: A&K’s Commitment to Positive Social Impact

ALN Kenya | Anjarwalla & Khanna (A&K) Partner Aisha Abdallah, participated at the 25th East Africa Law Society (EALS) Annual Conference on 24 November 2020 in a forum that engaged national bar associations and law firms in East Africa to discuss and share their experiences, challenges and opportunities in providing pro bono services.

“A&K takes a strategic approach when selecting pro bono matters,” says Aisha, “and we are careful to ensure that the use of our limited time and resources will cause positive ripple effects and result in maximum benefit to society.”

The A&K Pro Bono Committee undertakes work that meets 1 or more of the following 5 criteria:

  1. Matters seeking to improve governance and promote democracy.
  2. Matters that assist charities that: work in Africa, assist vulnerable groups, or help the environment.
  3. Matters that enhance the rule of law, have a public interest element over and above an individual need for justice (establishing an important precedent, clarifying uncertain laws, making claims that advance social justice or assist access to justice for minorities or underprivileged segments of society).
  4. Matters that can leverage A&K’s unique position as a full-service law firm and its relationship with ALN to provide a positive outcome, such as capacity building amongst legislation drafters and the judiciary by arranging for drafting training for legislation writers or judicial training (Kenyan and pan African). The firm also seeks to undertake legislation reviews and critiques on legislation to clarify and assist its implementation (especially non-corporate focussed legislation that has a public interest impact).
  5. Other worthy causes of flagrant injustice to individuals or groups or of personal interest to partners or staff of A&K.

The firm’s lawyers are encouraged to actively take on and assist with pro bono projects which are carefully vetted by the Pro Bono Committee. The Committee ensures that the volunteers have the necessary skills and expertise, the work is properly supervised and there is accountability. Such pro bono work is treated as billable for the purposes of our targets and appraisals.

Key Highlights of A&K’s 2020 Pro Bono Matters

COVID-19 Legislative Review
“We are very deliberate about leveraging our unique position as a full-service law firm to create a positive social impact and to promote the rule of law,” Aisha points out. In the first quarter of 2020, for example, A&K conducted a legislative review and made recommendations to the Attorney General on various amendments that would provide relief to Kenyans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya, A&K undertook a comprehensive legislative review in consultation with a number of clients operating businesses in various sectors of the Kenyan economy, as well as relevant industry associations for purposes of assessing the ability of business to comply with various legislative provisions during the subsistence of the pandemic and the aftermath. While conducting its review, A&K focused on those legislative provisions the amendment of which would have broad impact and benefits for businesses in Kenya as a whole.

The legislative review touched on broad cross-section of the laws relating to different types of business entities (such as companies and limited liability partnerships and listed entities) in the context of commercial transactions, healthcare, insurance, employment, insolvency, banking and finance, real estate, construction, projects and infrastructure and energy laws, amongst others. We also reviewed the relevant rules of civil procedure and procedural rules of courts and tribunals in relation to dispute settlements in Kenya.

Based on A&K’s review of the laws, the firm sent to the Attorney General a memorandum setting out the following:

  1. the statutory provisions that, in the firm’s view, should be considered and amended in order to ameliorate the impact of COVID 19 on the compliance obligations of businesses operating in Kenya;
  2. the rationale for the proposed amendments; and
  3. the proposed recommended amendments or remedial measures that should be adopted in this regard.

“A&K’s work on the legislative review is a clear indication of our commitment to the rule of law and legislative developments even in the face of a global pandemic, notes Aisha. “Our efforts to tackle the effects of the pandemic from a legislative review perspective received support and endorsement from the Commonwealth Secretariat which indicated that it would in fact like to replicate this across the 54 countries that are members of the Commonwealth.”

Establishing a Covid Hub
A&K set up a free and up to date Covid information hub on the ALN website about legal issues, risk management and the progression of the pandemic. The information was collated across many of ALN’s member countries. Some of the features include a FAQs section, opinion pieces, links to reputable websites and videos.

Establishment of an East African legislative framework to ban the use of single-use plastics
A&K is currently advising The Flipflopi Project, on the legislative process in the East African Community (the EAC) and the introduction of a legislative framework to ban the use of single use plastics in the EAC. A&K will also assist the Flipflopi Project to draft a single use plastics bill that will be presented before the EAC Legislative Assembly for consideration.

“A&K’s assistance on this pro bono matter highlights our interest in supporting organisations that seek to promote environmental conservation,” Aisha affirms.

The Flipflopi Project is a circular economy project based in East Africa that showcases alternate uses of waste plastic and the viability of a circular economy in Africa through establishing and supporting innovation hubs, whose vision is a world without single use plastics.

‘It’s a Penalty’ & Trust Law Research (Thomson Reuters) Project
A&K is undertaking a legal review of the laws in Kenya relating to child sexual exploitation and abuse for Happy Child International Foundation (operating as It’s a Penalty). The review entails undertaking a comparison of existing Kenyan laws against a set of legislative best practices for purposes of identifying the changes that will be needed to bring Kenya’s laws in line with best practice.

Happy Child International Foundation aims to end abuse, exploitation and trafficking of children with the goal of better protecting children around the world through improved laws, awareness and enforcement.

Justice Defenders
A&K is currently advising Justice Defenders on a proposed group restructuring. As part of the restructuring, A&K is advising on the relevant agreements and guidelines that Justice Defenders needs to have in place in order to comply with Kenyan laws and well as assisting with making filings of corporate documents at the relevant registries in Kenya.

Justice Defenders is a charitable organisation established over 10 years ago and provides eligible inmates and prison staff with a full scholarship to become students at the University of London’s Bachelor of Laws (LLB) distance learning programme. By offering direct and onsite legal training and practice under the supervision of APP employed advocates, they empower prisoners and prison officers to uphold their own rights and other inmates’ rights in a fair trial. Aisha observes that “the inmates have done a tremendous job given their circumstances including serving over 2,500 clients inmates since 2016 resulting in over 100 acquittals.”

“It is clear that there is a huge gap in this area which makes for a good case to develop guidelines towards mobilising commitment and engagement by lawyers in East Africa to incorporate pro bono as part of their legal practice,” concludes Aisha while challenging other firms and law associations to actively take up pro bono work.

For more information or queries regarding A&K’s pro bono work, please reach out via email to the  Corporate Social Responsibility Committee (csr@africalegalnetwork.com)